Natural disasters have always been a part of planet Earth. Tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other extreme weather events are not going anywhere any time soon. Although we continue to try our best to prepare for the worst, as illustrated by June’s soaring nationwide temperatures and Colorado’s massive wildfire, extreme environmental disasters will only increase with a changing climate.
One of the ways experts advise we deal with climate change is through immediate mitigation and abatement, however, given we’re already well on our way to a dangerous tipping point, a handful of engineers around the world are now devising tools in preparation to manage disasters as they increase in severity — via robots.
Take wildfires, for example. Wildfires can quickly rage out of control, particularly in weakened or dry forests, leaving firefighters helpless, outnumbered or injured. To combat these types of dangerous and widespread fires, the OLE, a firefighting robot designed by a German group, is intended to get close to the source and douse the fire on contact. These robots have legs for easier mobility in mountainous terrain and sense heat through installed sensors. Another robot, created by Segway, is less maneuverable, although it has the capability of hauling an injured firefighter out of harm’s way, a critical component to any fire fight.
Wildfires aren’t the only disasters we have to face however. Human-caused disasters like the 2010 BP oil spill also require a quick response. Designer Hsu Sean has therefore created a robot that treats oil spills on the spot, without the use of harsh chemical dispersants. Instead, his design uses oil-eating bacteria that gobble up oil in its tracks. The device also keeps oceanic wildlife at bay by using a sonic emitter, an important factor of any oil spill cleanup effort.
While all of this technology is impressive, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture: these robots aren’t designed so we can simply continue business as usual. We instead need to use these new products with the long-term goal of reducing the source of the problem. Robots like OLE and various search and rescue bots will become more and more commonplace as human capacity is limited and strained, but we should always consider our daily impact on a warming planet and make every possible effort to curtail our individual CO2 emissions. With regards to oil spills, we should be moving away from a fossil fuel economy entirely so Hsu Sean’s robots never need to be deployed, but they’re indeed a handy tool until that day comes.
Photo Credit: Mountain
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