The robots that are cleaning up our industries

Robotics for a changing energy industry     

  • Widely used in the precision manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric turbines, robotics systems are revolutionizing the renewable energy industry, enabling key production processes to be completed faster, better, and more cost-efficiently. An example is Jinko Solar, one of the world’s largest producers of solar photovoltaic products, which uses mobile robots, IOT, and intelligent mobile devices to create flexible, intelligent operation systems that streamline its manufacturing processes.
  • On the Skarv floating production, storage, and offloading unit 130 miles off the coast of Norway, Cognite and Aker BP deployed Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robotic dog Spot to inspect the site, search for potentially dangerous hydrocarbon leaks, and generate data-driven reports. The result? A safer workforce, improved productivity, and more cost-effective, sustainable offshore operations. 

Cleaning up… 18,000 feet down     

Earlier this year scientists used an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) called “Sentry” to search the San Pedro Basin off the coast of Southern California for the remains of a decades-old DDT dump.

  • How? With a sophisticated navigating system and the ability to operate at depths as great as 18,000 feet, Sentry mapped the ocean floor while another underwater, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called “Jason” gathered samples to test for concentrations of the toxic legacy chemical banned by the US government in 1972. That data will now be used to help determine how best to proceed with the complex process of bioremediation.

Reef recovery     

Australian leaders have deployed underwater robots to protect the Great Barrier Reef from damage caused by a species of starfish known as crown-of-thorns (COTS), populations of which have exploded in recent years as a result of climate change and wide-scale agricultural runoff. 

  • How? Developed as an effective, low-cost solution by Queensland University of Technology in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the RangerBot targets and controls this invasive species while simultaneously monitoring water quality, pollution, siltation, and coral bleaching.

What’s next? 

In a tantalizing glimpse of what the future might hold, last year the Levin Laboratory at Tufts University in Massachusetts used embryonic frog skin cells to create AI-designed “xenobots,” or what the New York Times has described as “a new class of living robotics.” 

Biodegradable robots? Created with a supercomputer programmed with an AI evolutionary algorithm, these microscopic, biodegradable, autonomous “organisms” could be engineered to filter out microplastics in the Earth’s oceans and detect environmental toxins and radioactivity. A step too far or a ground-breaking technological advance in the transition towards a greener, more sustainable future?

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