The human population is growing at an ever-increasing rate. In a world driven by energy, it is only a matter of time before we run out of our current energy sources, namely oil and coal. Therefore, providing clean and sustainable energy to everyone is at the top of the to-do list for roboticist all over the globe.
What is “Clean Energy”?
Whether it be politics or the news, the words “clean energy,” “renewable energy,” and “sustainable energy” are often the context of many discussions. They all, in fact, refer to the same thing: a source of energy that does not harm the environment and will not run out in the long run. As simple as it may sounds, finding sustainable energy sources is quite difficult in itself. Integrating this renewable energy into our current system is another matter altogether.
The current leading sources of clean energy are solar power, hydroelectric power, and wind power. Although hydroelectric power and wind power account for a much larger percentage of the total energy produced, it is in the realms of solar power that the field of robotics can bring the most improvement.
Solar Powered Robotics
The sun is the main source of energy in our solar system. However, harvesting the sun’s energy is a very arduous task and often requires more efforts than it is worth. Even if we manage to sustainably produce solar electricity, there are many factors that block its way into commercial production.
Shifting the focus from creating everyday electronics to sustainable electronics is something that the industry has been trying to do for a long time. However, the lack of impending doom and the ease of use of conventional electricity makes is near impossible for companies to profitably manufacture solar-powered products. Due to these reasons, solar farms are scarce.
Roboticists all over the globe are currently making strides to solve this problem. To begin with, the process of generating electricity from solar power is one that can be greatly optimised with the use of robotics. Moreover, the fundamentally simple nature of robotic systems has made it much easier to integrate solar cells into new and emerging robotic systems. Therefore, instead of changing the old mechanical systems that run on conventional energy, we simply replace it with sustainable robotics. This way, the field of robotics can not only help the production of solar power but also tackle the issue of integrating it into our everyday use.
One such example is Clearbot, a fully autonomous Solar Powered swarm of trash collecting robots that use AI-Vision to detect and collect trash from water bodies.
The simple flowing of water currently produces 52% of all the renewable energy in the United States. Hydroelectric power plants store water using a dam in a reservoir. When this water is allowed to flow, it turns a turbine which then activates a generator that can translate the turbine’s mechanical energy into electric energy. Due to its scalability, the process of hydroelectric power generation is easy to implement and gives results that are worth the trouble. However, one of the biggest roadblocks in this process is the storing of large amounts of water behind a dam.
A dam comes with a steep cost of maintenance since it puts humans in danger of working in deep and dark conditions underwater. This in turn often turns people away from using hydropower. That is where robots step in. Advances in the robotics industry have led to the development of underwater robots that can be loaded with sensors and be operated from miles away.
Although the development of these robots is still within its testing and research phases, it is already making some serious changes in countries like Thailand which rely on the hydropower industry. These robots can safely and efficiently provide maintenance and make hydropower more accessible to everyone.
Just as hydropower, wind power also accounts for about 6.6% of all energy produced in the United States. Power generation from the wind is very similar to hydroelectric power generation, only this time, it is the wind that is turning the turbine instead of the water. Just as the maintenance of the dam is a major problem with hydropower, the maintenance of the wind turbine is a major problem with wind power.
A crack in the blades of a wind turbine can often cost a fortune to fix. However, if the crack is detected in time then a quick patch can and stop it from growing. This detection, however, requires people to climb onto the blades every day. In order to solve this problem, Sandia National Laboratories has made a vacuum-legged robot that can carry out the inspection and make wind turbine farms a lot more profitable.
The robot is called BladeBUG and is equipped with vacuumed feet that allow it to crawl across the blade without falling. It also contains a myriad of sensors which can help with the detection of even the smallest cracks, damages, or other signs of wear that need to be addressed. With advancements in robotic technology, wind power can soon become accessible to many people.
Future of Clean Energy with Robotics
The energy and robotics industries are an unlikely pair, however, together they can have a large impact on each other. Robotic systems can help to streamline the production of renewable energy, whereas clean energy sources can make robotics altogether a much more sustainable field.
So far, all the innovations have been focused on maintaining the current systems. However, the current system treats renewable energy as a conventional energy source which requires its own extraction process. In reality, the greatest advantage of renewable energy is that it is a lot more readily available and locally accessible than any other energy source. Therefore, future robotic advancements will focus on bringing renewable energy closer to home, such that every household can be provided with clean energy. While the advancements in this collaboration are still confined within the research labs there is much to look forward to in the future.