A child of the 1980s, Matanya Horowitz (ApMath, CompSci, Econ, ElCompEngr’10; MElEngr’10) fell in love with robots while watching the animated Transformers TV series. It wasn’t a phase. Over the course of his life, Horowitz’s interest escalated.
“I got really obsessed with this idea that robots and AI could be a very big deal,” he said. “I just knew that if there was going to be a robots or AI boom, I wanted to be there.”
When it came time for college, socializing and extracurriculars, Horowitz forewent free time for an armful of degrees across five disciplines in just four years — a BA in economics; BS degrees in applied mathematics, computer science and electrical engineering; and an MS in electrical engineering.
“To be perfectly honest, I should have spent more of my time having fun in college,” laughed Horowitz. But the regrets are small, and the rewards have been big.
Within a year of earning a PhD in controls and dynamical systems at the California Institute of Technology in 2014, Horowitz founded AMP Robotics. His vision? Use artificial intelligence to elevate the recycling industry.
Horowitz wants people to know that their participation in recycling really matters. “Recycling has a massive impact, and people should know that their recycling programs do divert material from the landfill and prevent material from being mined from the earth,” he said.
AMP helps make this possible. The company produces artificial intelligence-aided robots to automate identifying, sorting and processing the myriad items that are collected for recycling — at a rate the company says is twice as fast as humans and 99% accurate. In other words, no more of the slow and sometimes dangerous process of human beings trying to decide what to salvage.
Moreover, AMP’s robots both increase operations efficiency and allow companies to add to their workforces. While the robots are hard at work sorting, companies using AMP robots are able to hire more people for tasks that require a human touch, like maintenance, data and analytics-focused roles.
“I just thought that sorting was such a core constraint to the entire industry—if we could solve it, it was very clear that businesses would buy it,” Horowitz said.
He was right. Based in Louisville, Colorado, AMP has raised more than $75 million in capital and grants, employs more than 100 people and has sold its robots to more than three dozen customers in four countries. And the idea didn’t just bring financial success — Horowitz has been praised worldwide for his creative work connecting AI and robotics with sustainability. Fast Company named him one of the most creative people in business in 2020, and Grist placed him on their annual list of 50 Fixers in 2021, awarded to leaders in climate, sustainability and equity.
Where does this creativity come from? “To problem solve, I tend to look for what tools are available and go from there,” said Horowitz. “I have a sense for what’s feasible, thanks to a wide breadth of experiences and knowledge about tools that are available.”
Motivation is also key. Horowitz explained his creativity is fueled by the idea that technology can have an impact. “A lot of my creativity comes from being idealistic — Pollyannaish. Can we help make the world a better place? With this perspective, different pieces of technology in the marketplace all become tools to effectuate change.”
Horowitz said his success shows what is possible if you’re passionate about something.
“People can follow their passion in many different ways. Not all of them will have public accolades, but those accolades end up not being important,” he said. “What matters is if your passion can result in something new or exciting and make a tiny dent in the universe. I don’t think I’m particularly special, I just sincerely followed my interests. And that’s a path anyone can follow.”
Headshot courtesy Matanya Horowitz; Photo ©Photka|Dreamstime.com