How Robots Are Helping in the Fight Against Climate Change

The effects of climate change become more dramatic every year. As humans, we are experiencing changes in temperature and extreme natural disasters are sweeping across the world. Plants and animals are also affected by the changing climate, with delicate species at risk and crops dying in extreme heat and drought.

Globally, robot developers and researchers are using their passion for robotics to help the environment. One robot won’t solve all of our problems, but together we can all work to make a difference. Here are 15 ways robots are fighting climate change.

Robots Plant Trees

Climate change startups tend to pick a specific element of environmental harm and solve a problem for it. For Mark Stewart, CEO of SkyGrow, it’s planting trees. He developed his company to plant more trees than we are cutting down and not just in remote forests like the Amazon. The team at SkyGrow developed the Growbot, an unmanned vehicle that plants trees 10 times faster than a human can, at about half the cost.

Growbot plants established trees instead of seeds, because established trees have a greater chance of succeeding in their new location. Stewart and his team plan to manufacture 4,500 Growbots, helping forests recover everywhere.

Robots and the environment

Robots Help Farmers Survive Droughts

As our climate continues to change, it affects our food sources. This is particularly true in poorer countries and rural areas that can’t easily import food from other regions.

Using AI sensors and monitors, robots can track the growth of plants and learn which species survive and thrive in harsh conditions, Megan Treacy at Treehugger writes. With the help of this data analysis, farmers can choose plants that have a greater chance of success, saving their income while they feed the people around them.

Robots Can Grow Like Plants

Researchers at The Plantoid Project are working to recreate the behavior and functions of plants to study the natural environment.

They have realized the best way to study the environment is to use the same methods plants use to filter air, water, and other chemicals that they’re exposed to. The robot plant they have developed even has a mini 3D printer that helps the roots “grow,” allowing researchers to explore the soil that plants are exposed to.

Humanoid Robots Dive to the Bottom of the Ocean

The team at Evolving Science recently profiled Ocean One, a humanoid robot developed by the Stanford Robotics Lab to explore the ocean and collect samples as effectively as a diver.

Ocean One was originally developed to monitor deep coral reefs in the Red Sea. These corals are essential for a healthy ocean, but live far beyond human range. Researchers needed a robot that could collect samples without damaging the reef and observe deep-sea specimens in their natural habitat.

Ocean One mimics a human SCUBA diver, complete with arms, depth perception, and touch feedback, plus it can survive significant depths. Since exploring the Red Sea, the robot has traveled across the world, helping us learn about the ocean without disrupting it.

Deep ocean and robotics

Swarm Robots Collect Data

Interestingly, not all underwater robots are humanoid, or even human-sized. Aquabotix is a technology development company that creates vehicles for underwater inspection. It specializes in swarm robots, or multiple small robots that can be controlled by one operator. As a whole, there are multiple benefits to swarm robot submersibles:

  • Swarm robots cover more territory than one robot can.
  • If there is damage to individual units, the entire research plan isn’t affected.
  • It’s more affordable to deploy a dozen swarm bots than one main robot platform.

In the field of marine biology, swarm robots can collect more data and more diverse data than a single robot (or even a varied team of researchers) could. This makes the data more reliable and helps scientists learn more about the ocean and how to protect it.      

Robots Harvest Wave and Solar Energy

If we’re going to fight climate change, then we will need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels like oil. Developers are turning to robots to help collect energy sustainably and use it across industries and environments.

A great example is the Wave Glider by Liquid Robotics. It looks like a surfboard and has built-in solar panels, collecting solar energy as it moves along the ocean surface. It uses the stored energy for propulsion and to recharge the batteries needed for its sensors.

Wave Glider’s applications include collecting high-resolution carbon dioxide samples in difficult locations for a complete picture of global climate change.

Robots Eat Water Pollution

The Permaculture Research Institute in Australia recently covered the development of a “Row-bot” developed by the University of Bristol that digests pollution in the water and turns it into energy. The robot swims around, ingesting microbes which then power the boat’s motor. It’s really no different than a whale shark filter feeding krill and using that food energy to travel around the ocean.

According to Jonathan Rossiter, who hosted a TED talk about these robots, this technology could help reduce the impact of tankers that flush their oil tanks into the sea and of chemicals that are washed into rivers and wind up in the oceans.     

Robots Kill Invasive Species

Sometimes protecting the environment means hunting invasive species that take over and harm endangered plants and animals.

One example of this is the Crown-of-Thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These coral-eating starfish can kill off large swaths of reef, destroying the homes of thousands of delicate species. Experts say this starfish is a threat equal to climate change to the reef.

The team at BiopixelTV recently shared a solution to these pests: the RangerBot. This robot finds and kills the starfish with an eco-friendly injection, preventing the starfish from doing further damage. The results are staggering. Six human divers could only cover half of the reef in a year, but six RangerBots can cover the reef 14 times over the same period.

RangerBots also cost half the price of a human expedition, operate day and night, and can collect other measurements like temperature and salinity while they work.

Robots Also Pick Up River Trash

Pollution comes in all forms, from oils and other chemicals to plastic bags and straws. One company, Urban Rivers, developed a trash robot for the Chicago River. It floats along collecting garbage to keep the waterway clean.

The robot came to be after Urban Rivers installed 1,500 square feet of floating wetland and urban garden. They noticed trash kept getting caught in the plants and sent someone out each day to pick it up. The team realized the trash was only going to build, and started developing a robot to help them clean up the waterways. This robot keeps the plants trash-free and prevents animals from accidentally ingesting the waste.

Robots Make Recycling Easier

As more people recycle, there is added pressure on humans to sort the materials and determine what can be reused. This is highly manual work, with people hunched over conveyor belts grabbing items as fast as they can.

AMP Robotics hopes to make recycling easier. Its robots use AI to “see” items on a conveyor belt and record what they are. The robot can then sort the materials and place them into designated bins.

This solution increases efficiency with higher throughput and better bale quality. It also allows users, whether cities or construction companies, to budget more accurately with fixed labor rates.

Robots Climb Into the Sewers

Our sewer systems have a massive impact on climate change, especially when you consider what and where we dump our waste. They can also impact public health.

Tech writer Luke Dormehl at Digital Trends showcases Luigi, a sewer robot developed by MIT’s Underworlds project. Operated with an iPhone app, the robot studies bacteria and chemicals in manholes.

Luigi is the first of a team of future sewer samplers that will collect and analyze raw sewage and send the data back to the lab. The robots, using sampling instruments that upload data remotely (and with plans for a real-time biochemical detection platform in the works) will be able to collect more samples much faster than their human counterparts, who were limited to manually hauling liters of muck at a time back to the lab.

Robots Reduce Carbon Emissions

Senior environment reporter Emily Guerin at KPCC Southern California Public Radio recently discussed the rise of automated equipment in the Port of Long Beach. While it is adversely affecting union workers there, the impact on climate change is good.

This is because the new equipment releases no emissions and greatly reduces the pollution-causing tools and trucks needed to operate the port. Guerin explains that heavy duty diesel trucks are responsible for 150 tons of smog emissions per day (compared to 80 tons for cars and SUVs). If automation can reduce this number, the air in Southern California has a chance of clearing up.  

Decrease pollution with robotics

Robots Reduce Personal Transportation Emissions

Transportation has a significant impact on climate change and carbon emissions. Alexandra Gray at World Economic Forum reports that 23 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions are caused by transportation.

Today’s innovators are not only developing electric cars, but also better batteries that reduce the environmental impact of all vehicles. In fact, researchers at the University of Surrey are developing an alternative to traditional battery power that is 1,000-10,000 times stronger than that used today, allowing electric cars to travel similar distances to those that use gas and to recharge in the time it takes to fill up the tank.

Robots Use Less Energy and Produce Less Waste

As a whole, there are multiple benefits to using robots to fight climate change. James Butler at Climate Change -The New Economy highlights various ways that robotics improve most manufacturing, farming, and production industries. For example, robots can:

  • Prevent pollution and emissions through careful monitoring.
  • Optimize the manufacturing process to reduce energy consumption.
  • Minimize the need for larger, less-efficient machines.
  • Eliminate waste with fewer human errors and better usage calculations.

These benefits alone have impacts beyond the actual manufacturing process. The reduction of energy and need for fewer resources will impact all industries that supply materials to manufacturers.

Robots Send Environmental Alerts on Social Media

Robots alone can’t save the planet. These robots need humans who want to protect the natural environment and the plants and animals that live in it.

The developers at Climate Reality recently wrote a “Rapid Response Team” program which sends messages to their Facebook fans whenever there is news related to the fight against climate change. Fans can opt in and then take action based on the message. This might mean calling their local representatives or donating to a cause to help clean up after a disaster. Thousands of people can come together with the help of a bot coded on Facebook sending out alerts.

Images: Ozobot, wavebreakmediamicro/©123RF Stock Photo, joakant, budabar/©123RF Stock Photo, stevepb

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