These eco-friendly robots are gearing up to save the planet!
Seen the Terminator films? Their apocalyptic vision of robots attempting to eliminate humanity is a common reference point when we talk about artificial intelligence; but what if, in the future, the robots are on our side? What if, in fact, the robots help rescue our planet's natural environment by taking on the jobs that are just too big, too dangerous, too mindless or too messy for humans to tackle?
Well, it's already happening. Scientists and engineers have created robots designed to protect living forests by harvesting preserved underwater trees, run super-efficient eco-farms and patrol our shore lines for polluters, with many more in the pipeline. Which of these guys is your personal favourite?
Robot logger harvesting submerged forests
The problem? As demand for timber for manufacturing continues to rise across the world, vast areas of virgin forest are being cleared by loggers.
The robot solution? Many millions of trees lie submerged beneath the artificial lakes and reservoirs created when rivers have been dammed for hydroelectric plants. We might imagine that the trees would simply rot away, yet in fact the waterlogged wood is perfectly preserved.
Triton Timber, known as 'The Underwater Harvesting Specialists', use the amazing unmanned submersible robot pictured above - the Sawfish® - to bring this eco-friendly resource to the surface. Apparently each of these robots can harvest and float 100 trees a day.
Super-efficient robot farms have arrived!
The problem? Conventional farming techniques are extremely water intensive: for example, it takes around 10 litres of clean water to produce a single head of lettuce. The widespread use of polluting pesticides and weed killers can throw the environment around the farm out of balance. Many foods need to be grown in hotter countries near the Equator for year-round supplies and so must be transported long distance, so producing high levels of carbon emissions.
The robot solution? In 2017 Japanese company SPREAD launched a robot factory which can potentially be located anywhere in the world, so cutting down on transport emissions. The ideal growing conditions are calibrated robotically so the factory can produce year-round crops of lettuce under super-eco, low wattage LED lighting, powered by renewable energy. No pesticides or weed killers are required, because the factory is a closed environment. Water is used sparingly and precisely on the crop and then recycled, so they end up using just 100ml of water per head of lettuce - that's 100 times less than in conventional farming! Amazing!
Robot 'pollution police' fish patrolling our waterways
The problem? Cargo ships leaking or intentionally dumping chemical waste into the sea. Human patrols are currently only able to test waters once a month for pollutants, which leaves ample time for the miscreants to move on to other shores and shipping companies to evade punishment.
The robot solution? This robotic fish can patrol harbours 24/7, using an array of monitoring devices to sense and track the source of chemical leaks, transmitting the data back to marine law enforcement agencies on shore. This highly manoeuvrable robot 'watchdog' has been tested in the waters off the Spanish port of Gijon.