Snippets in Clean Technology and Data Science: Biomimicry and sustainable materials

 One of the newest entrants in the clean tech arena is the field of biomimicry and sustainable materials. Research in nanotechnology and biological systems is driving a lot of innovation in how we design materials so that they can be easily recycled/reused or degraded naturally to return to the environment. And not just material design, but also a whole suite of novel solutions to problems that are based on biological systems.

First off – designing monitoring systems that can track and monitor wildlife and natural systems.  An interesting interplay between clean technology and data science lies in biomimicry –where natural systems are used as templates for better design. Often, what happens is that there’s an interesting technological advance that is used to collect large amounts of data – and then, researchers figure out by using data science that there is a natural system that could make it even better!

A really interesting invention out of MIT looks at how robots can be built to catch and release fish in the wild. The robots are based on the physiology of eels and are manufactured out of soft hydrogels. When water is pumped through them, they can catch and release fish as well as performing other actions like kicking a ball in the water. And, a robot like this can not only be used to catch fish, but can also be used to monitor conditions in the water and track the biodiversity in streams and rivers.

A second example lies with researchers in Australia who have figured out how to make cameras work even better outdoors. Cameras are used extensively these days in drones, smartphones and sensors to collect information about our environment. The data being collected is extensive and is being used to solve several problems – predicting farm yield, improving agricultural management, detecting water leaks, monitoring wildlife and so on and so on.

The problem is that in complex outdoor settings, like a farm for example, the light is continuously changing, so cameras find it difficult to identify color. This becomes an issue if you’re trying to use a drone to check if the fruit is ready for picking or if something is a weed or not. Or if you’re trying to monitor wildlife remotely, to mention just two possible uses.

The researchers looked at how bees see color and used that as a template to design a better camera. What they found is that bees have additional receptors in three eyes that look upwards, which allow them to discount changes in natural light. They built a mathematical model that simulates these receptors and suggested that this model could be used as a template for improving computer vision algorithms to better detect color.

These are classic examples of both biomimicry and how artificial intelligence and big data can be used in the clean tech field. From the biomimicry aspect, a natural system like the eel or the bee functions as the template to build the algorithms that govern the robots behavior. That’s an example of integrating clean technology and data science! As an application, the robot will help increase our knowledge of the environment and that’s another way in which it integrated clean tech and big data.

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