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September 13, 2022

Can robots reduce carbon footprint?

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident and have more severe consequences worldwide. As a result, companies have begun to understand that a 360-degree transformation approach is necessary to achieve the sustainability goals they are setting for themselves.

Technology is their greatest ally for companies willing to advance their sustainability initiatives and accelerate this transition. This mindset is known as the “technology eco-advantage” and is capable of creating cost-effective technology solutions that also have a positive impact on net zero and other environmental and social goals.

Robotics, combined with artificial intelligence-driven applications, is helping governments, manufacturers, and key stakeholders to manage and reduce their carbon footprint. We will explain to you how!

Robotics and sustainability

Robots can be used in different applications: mapping, search, rescue, surveillance, hazard detection, exploration of dangerous terrain…

Robotics is already transforming numerous sectors, especially industry, where it is taking on the toughest or most dangerous tasks for human workers to perform. Suppose we frame these tasks in an ecosystem constantly threatened by climate change and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In that case, it is time to take advantage of the capabilities of this technology to mitigate the adverse effects.

In fact, combined with other technologies applied to combat climate change, such as blockchain or cloud computing, the results can be even more beneficial and achievable in less time.

How can robotics fight climate change

The applications of robots in the service of more sustainable solutions are numerous, and these are just a few examples:

Exploring the oceans

There are places humans cannot reach, such as the depths of the oceans. Robots specifically designed to withstand the enormous pressures and freezing temperatures are being sent there to collect samples and clean up the microplastics found in the oceans.

These microplastics have commercial applications, such as facial scrubs, but they are also the result of the decomposition of larger pieces of plastic polluting the oceans. The danger doesn’t just stop there, as it has been shown that microplastics have become so ubiquitous in the oceans that they are wreaking havoc on the food chain worldwide.

Twenty-five percent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans ends up in the ocean; this amount can alter the chemical composition of the water and make it more acidic, decimating populations.

Cleaning up these plastics would not be possible without robots, which make the job much easier and less expensive. They also protect marine life, significantly reduce the number of gases the ocean absorbs, and help the human food chain.

Farming and Livestock

One of the sectors most affected by climate change is agriculture and livestock. With extreme temperature changes, livestock is threatened, while food production shortages caused by droughts or floods endanger the food chain.

This sector is the fourth largest polluter in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to sustainable robotic machinery can reduce these emissions, as robots can be powered by renewable energy sources and do not rely on traditional fossil fuels.

On the other hand, research is also underway with robots collecting data to develop drought-tolerant crops. Thanks to 3D technology, behaviors can be studied in more detail and understood in greater depth.

Reforestation

It is estimated that 15 billion trees are cut down every year for human use, so it is vital to stop deforestation as a matter of urgency.

In line with the previous point, organizations are already developing solutions for planting trees. One example is Skygrow, a company that uses “Growrobot,” a robot capable of planting trees ten times faster than a specialized person. This translates into excellent employee safety, reduced costs, and an increased tree survival rate.

Research projects have also been launched, such as the Plantoid Project, which uses robots that mimic plant growth and behavior to detect pollutants in the air and water. They use 3D printers to help roots grow, explore soil properties, and discover how to be more successful.

Delivery robots

Another of the most polluting sectors is freight transport. With the pandemic, the number of delivery robots and drones has increased, raising the big question of whether they are less polluting than a traditional delivery van.

After analyzing 12 scenarios ranging from a human-operated delivery process to a fully automated system, they have concluded that the robot only accounts for less than 20% of a package’s footprint. However, one vehicle and its fuel source greatly impacted total emissions (up to 50% more).

Surveillance from the Heights

Robots and remote sensors can patrol the earth and sky to monitor gas emissions. The amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O) emitted into the atmosphere, a component 300 times more polluting than CO2, can be studied.

Quantifying these emissions can take many hours, but a robot can do it in as little as 60 minutes. With this knowledge, employers can reduce and control their emissions in real-time.

On the other hand, the monitoring of particles arriving in the atmosphere can be done thanks to the installation of remote sensors installed on aircraft. These sensors predict when clouds will likely form and how they will interact with aerosols. This gives researchers information to better understand atmospheric phenomena and how or under what conditions storms will develop.

Housekeeping

If we go to a smaller scale level, we find robots designed to perform household tasks such as mowing the lawn, cleaning pools, or smaller objects, which translates into time and energy savings for the consumer.

It may seem banaler when talking about sustainability; for example, a human garden maintenance team contributes significantly to a household’s carbon footprint. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that lawnmowers produce 11 times more pollution than a new car. Add to that other maintenance tools, and the amount of pollutants produced each year is a cause for concern.

AI-controlled electric lawn mowers or snow blowers can significantly reduce the volume of air pollution emitted yearly.

A role for robotics in sustainable development

After analyzing all the data, it is pretty evident that robots can typically perform the same tasks as humans but with greater efficiency.

But don’t panic, because this does not mean that robots will replace human employees, but rather that the union of the two can contribute to more efficient and environmentally friendly workplaces.

Although productivity increases as the level of precision and quality of robots increases, human characteristics such as ingenuity and innovation are crucial for companies. The introduction of industrial robots results in fewer pollutants being expelled by using less energy, making it easier for a company to reduce its carbon footprint.

In short, companies that introduce robots into their value chain will be able to deliver high-quality products but use fewer resources and make fewer mistakes, as well as contribute to the fight against climate change.

If you want to know more about how robots are transforming the way we do business, discover Spot, the most advanced quadruped robot on the market, and all the advances we are making with him.

Elena Canorea
Author
Elena Canorea
Content & Copywriter

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