Authors: Anessa Quintanilla
Press Release: December 2021

The Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (ARCS) was awarded a $150,000 one-year planning grant from the National Science Foundation’s Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) program to support Workers and Technology Together (WATT), a transdisciplinary research project focusing on the waste management industry. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “Climate Change and Land,” food waste is responsible for about 20% of the total methane emissions released from landfills between 2010-2016. As the current methods for processing organic waste are harmful and inefficient, the ARCS project team intends to study the potential for leveraging autonomous technologies in improving the productivity within the organic waste industry and increasing the safety of its workers. 

Considering the scale of the WATT project, the ARCS team will take a transdisciplinary approach to identify “pain points”within the waste management industry as identified by stakeholders. The project team consists of faculty, students, and experts from disciplines such as mechanical engineering, art and design, business law, computer science and manufacturing systems. 

The team will collaborate with consultants in environmental engineering like Euegene Tseng, professor of Environmental Law at UCLA, and prominent companies such as Waste Management and Anargeria. 

With their combined knowledge and expertise, the team will determine how applying autonomous technologies to organic waste processes might increase the capture of organic waste, reduce high-risk duties for line workers, and increase the efficiency among the technology and workforce. 

“The WATT project has important policy and legal consequences. It lies at the intersection of a pivotal discussion about the relationship between automation and human interaction with technology,” says Dr. Farshad Ghodoosi, an ARCS faculty member, WATT project team member, and Assistant Professor of Business Law at California State University, Northridge. “It sheds light on the future of the firm as organizations move towards more automation. The legal, ethical, and policy impacts of automation have yet to be thoroughly studied. The WATT project is contributing to that discussion.” 

During the project period, the team will conduct on-site interviews and focus groups with line workers, managers, and owners of organic waste processing facilities, as well as on-site technical tests of the facilities’ technology. 

Through their research, the team will identify “pain points” in existing waste management processes and develop frameworks for solutions to technological needs and training to up-skill workers who interact with autonomous systems.  

While carrying out project activities, the team will also identify areas for future research to propose for a FW-HTF 2022 funding proposal that will take this important work from research to implementation. For more information on WATT, visit ARCS’s zero waste project page at