Cleaning up the environment with Automation

30 Mar, 2023 | 8 Minute Read

With the race on to reduce the effects of Global Warming, reaching net zero by 2050 should be at the top of the agenda. Many are developing innovative ways to assist in these efforts. 

Four million years ago was the last time carbon dioxide levels were as high as they are today. Emissions of green house gases have led to an accelerated increase in global temperatures. The repercussions of such have been wildfires, sweeping locusts that are decimating crops, melting ice caps and sheets, deforestation, hurricanes, flooding, and heightened heatwaves. Automation can mitigate the situation with inventions such as sustainable planting bots, that can likewise be used in recycling and harvesting. 

Waste not, want not.

Food that was originally intended for human consumption is credited for producing around 1.3 tonnes of food loss and waste, enough to feed roughly 3 billion people. Food loss and waste accounts for a third of greenhouse gases, the same as China and the US put together. In developing countries 40% of food waste is the result of post- harvest processing activity, whilst in developed countries 40% of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer level. So, in relation to what automation can do to alleviate food waste, in this instance, digitalising manual work that is less engaging and more expected to cause mistakes, can help to reduce human error. 

With plant management software collecting data automatically, and automated tracking systems assisting the process, food loss and waste can be traced and monitored from supply to delivery. Not only that, but tracking systems also enable supply chain managers to receive data that can aid in determining inefficiencies and unnecessary costs in the supply chain. 

When food waste ends up in landfills, it releases methane gas which is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Many companies have taken up the mantle by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), as a solution to aid in managing wastes. Those using AI can examine the types of food waste and measure food quality using smart scales, AI guided intelligent meters and cameras. Companies such as Winnow, for example, focus on reinventing food management for the hospitality industry. It works by camera ‘smart scales’ and ML technology photographing various food discarded into food waste bins. 

The data is then passed through an algorithm which calculates unwanted food’s financial and environmental costs. The system over time educates itself to recognise and discard products more accurately than humanly possible. Gamaya is an agricultural technology company specialising in remote sensing, and AI aims to ensure they are a ‘one stop solution’ for sustainable crop production. Using a crop intelligence program, the efficiency of crop production is boosted, whilst the crop wastage is reduced, thus benefiting farmers and large farming businesses. Utilising drones with hyperspectral cameras, Gamaya can detect and monitor changes in water, fertiliser, pests, and crop yields, using remote sending drones. Hyperspectral capture images of concern, and then AI algorithms can identify any potential issues such as threats, wastage of seeds and / or plants, and will inform the farmer. 

Fact - according to Process and Control Today, 10.9% of food waste was accounted for by human error, with 13.8% of food loss being attributed to the time between farm and transport to retailer.

Single use is of no use.

In relation to waste management, recycling bots have been created to assist mans’ clean up of the planet. Plastic pollution is a global dilemma that as a consequence threatens both the health of humans and ecosystems worldwide. Activists and innovators are combining their skills to inspire creative solutions, that will assist the combat of climate change.

In the 300 million tonnes of plastic that is produced, sadly half is made into single use items: enter Bebot, an automated plastic detection vehicle designed by 4Ocean and Poralumarine, to sift through sand for the tiny plastics that humans miss. Quieter and smaller than most, Bebot runs on batteries that are connected to a solar panel, making this energy efficient. Covering areas 3 fifths the size of a football field every hour, it covers ground at a faster rate than humans manually. Although manual assistance is needed at the end process, to remove pebbles and stones from the collection, it takes considerably less time than if it was a manual operation. 

In June 2021 the Global Plastic Action Partnership and UpLink launched The Global Plastic Innovation Network (GPIN). Its goal is to seek innovative solutions to aid in reducing the amount of plastic pollution. Named companies such as Diwama, provide high impact innovative hardware and software solutions to waste sorting facilities. Its technology, Vitron, uses AI established image recognition software that automates waste analysis, this can then be used to optimise waste management. Similarly, kick starter companies such as Urban Rivers’ main goal is to invite man to take responsibility and ownership with an engaging game, titled ‘Trash Robot’. 

To remove single use plastic and waste of all kinds, Urban Rivers has initiated its project in Chicago, controlled by a web browser; it allows users from all over the world to take control of the floating robot and clean up the river. Whilst version 1 is still being improved, version 2 has been described as needing a base station for dropping off waste, with a wider WIFI range, GPS tracking, and to be built of a more robust all weatherproof design.

Reforestation vs Global Warming 

Smart phone creators Huawei and artificial intelligence (AI) company RFCX have formed a partnership to combat illegal deforestation and document ecological changes. Forests play an integral role in our planet’s ecosystem, their benefits include offering vast animals and plant species a place to reside and flourish. It also bequeaths numerous health and economic benefits and helps to assuage the effects of climate change. The culprits behind deforestation have been specified as farming, mining, drilling, urbanisation, and logging. Up to 90% of logging, according to the UN is illegal with the issue of rangers being unable to monitor, respond and capture the prohibitors in real time. This is where your old Huawei phone can be put to good use, receiving an upgrade, the phones are enhanced to monitor and protect the environment.  

Sounds promising, but how does it work?

The upgraded devices are placed in trees, with leaf shaped solar panels surrounding them, they have aptly been named, Guardian Devices. Using acoustic monitoring technology, the phones are able to record the sound of chainsaws and gunshots, whilst observing the movement of specific animal species. Most importantly, it can respond to situations in real time, with a chance of stopping the illegal action. 

ETH-Zurich in Switzerland has proposed that our planet could bolster nearly 10 million square kilometres of additional trees, enabling man to store 205 billion metric tons of carbon once those trees have reached maturity. Start-up company Biocarbon Engineering have found a way to substantially increase the tree planting process, which by drones gather intel on topography and soil conditions, creating 3D maps. Combining the gathered information with satellite data that has been previously analysed by an algorithm, they are able to determine the most sufficient locations for planting, as well as the desired planting pattern. Once the information has been correlated, drones are programmed to deposit biodegradable pods that have been filled with germinated seeds and nutrients. The germinated seeds are planted into the ground at a rate of 1 pod per second, making this operation 10 times faster and 80% cheaper than when done manually.  

Fact – Depositing one pod per second allows for potentially 100,000 trees to be planted per day

Ocean Robots
The effects of climate change can never be undone, but if we stand any chance of prosperity, nay, survival, then reducing the use of fossil fuels is the fundamental next step in addressing and tackling global warming. Fossil fuels derive from decomposing plants and animals located within the earths crust, they contain carbon and hydrogen, which can be burned for energy. Coal, oil, and natural gas are some examples of fossil fuels, although effective, the repercussions of using and excavating such materials, are dire. 
Being the biggest driver behind the climate crisis, scientists, innovators, and activists are expanding investigations into natural energy resources. If done correctly, natural energy is predictable with high intensity, the extraction of such resources is efficient and the supply, constant. Ocean energy, also known as wave energy, is a geoengineering direct and permanent way of harbouring and utilising natural reserves. Enter: the Wave Gliders; these long-duration ocean robots assist scientists, businesses, and governments with enhanced insight, ensuring they are the optimal sea wave information robot. The gliders uses are vast, whilst it manages and protects critical ocean resources, monitors threats to maritime borders and security, it also houses solar panels that are able to soak up the suns’ rays, and can be used to power electricity.
Earth Rehabilitating Automation
Although most is still in the early stages of development, the fact that start up and environmental companies are actively engaged with automation to assist and rehabilitate the earth, is a highly positive step. Perhaps our ideas, ambitions and greed have led us down a detrimental path, and the blame can be shared globally. Automation and its positive effects cannot be ignored. 
We can only be encouraged by initiatives such as Evolving Science creating Ocean One, a robot that can dive to the deepest parts of the ocean to gather essential information on the state of the underwater world. And The Permaculture Research Institute, who have covered the development of a ‘Row Bot’ that digests pollution in the water and turns it into energy. There is no telling, no limits to what ingenuity humans have to offer. 

Browse all insights blog posts 
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn More