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Can robotics improve the environment?

Although conversations about the impact of robots on society more often than not focus on the negative aspects of automation – such as the number of jobs that might be threatened by the rise of AI and robotics – there is also a very real possibility that new technologies like robots can be used to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Nowhere is this possibility truer than in relation to climate change, which is undoubtedly the most pressing problem of our time. But what exactly is the scope of the environmental problem we face and how can robots be used to tackle it?

The climate change problem

As it currently stands, humans emit around 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere every year.

And while governments, individuals and companies across the world have been making a concerted effort to reduce this number, if we want to keep global warming within manageable limits, this figure will need to be cut in half by 2030 and reduced to net zero by 2050.

A failure to meet these targets will have profound and widespread consequences for essentially every human and animal being currently inhabiting the earth.

This includes a greatly increased frequency of intense droughts, extreme storms, prolonged and more intense heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and warming oceans that threaten the very ecosystems we rely on for life.

Not only will this cause millions of additional deaths each year, it will also cause the widespread displacement of humans.

With all this in mind, it is clear that climate change presents a very real threat to human society. And to meet this challenge, we will need to develop technological solutions that will allow us to either manage the worst effects of climate change or drastically reduce our carbon emissions.

For these reasons, many individuals have placed an increased emphasis on ESG investing as a way of supporting companies seeking to actively reduce their carbon footprint.

These companies have become attractive to individual and institutional investors, many of whom are acutely aware of the environmental impact many companies have.

One of the many solutions that has been put forward to meet this challenge is robotics. But how exactly can robotics improve the environment?

Scientific research and data analysis

One of the most obvious ways in which robots can be deployed to help us fight climate change is in assisting efforts to collect the vast quantities of data needed to develop appropriate technological solutions.

Scientific research relies on huge amounts of data being collected across the world over long periods of time. This process can be made significantly easier by the use of robots, which can work more efficiently than humans.

One example of this is the use of air quality monitoring robots that can be deployed to autonomously monitor the pollutants present in the atmosphere. Drones can be used to monitor air quality and to collect information in real time, which researchers can then use.

Emissions reductions

Another obvious way that robots can be deployed to fight climate change is by using robots to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across a wide variety of industries.

Robots can be used to undertake work that might otherwise be completed by humans, such as driving or deliveries. When undertaking these tasks, robots can also be programmed to work more efficiently than humans, which would have an immediate impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Using robots to scale up climate solutions

Robots can also be used to scale up existing climate solutions.

For example, robots can be deployed to clean solar panels or to conduct routine maintenance on wind turbines. They might also be used to undertake labor intensive tasks such as tree planting, which is an essential part of absorbing atmospheric carbon and preventing desertification in arid parts of the world.

Robots can also be deployed when responding to climate or weather-related disasters such as floods or wildfires. Effective disaster relief requires fast response times. Robots can be used to improve response times while also protecting individuals actively involved in these disaster response activities.

Can robots fight climate change?

As we can see, robotics has many applications across the various efforts we need to take to effectively respond to the ever-looming threat of climate change.

Not only can they perform tasks with greater efficiency and with fewer carbon emissions, they can also assist humans in undertaking the intensive work required to meet the very real threats associated with climate change.

In short, although robots will not provide the answer to all our climate change-related problems, it is clear they will assist us in effectively meeting the many challenges we face.

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