Showing posts from 2023

ChatGPT and clean technology

If you've ever played with ChatGPT through a free account, you’ve probably been trying to see what answers you can get to common questions. Or maybe you’ve been trying to see if it can work as a virtual assistant if you’re planning travel. Or maybe you’re a software developer who’s been using Copilot and other tools that use LLMs to help you answer questions about your code when you’re stuck. We’ve been hearing a lot about ChatGPT and large-language models (LLMs) and their impacts on the jobs that are going to be available and the skills that people will need to acquire. These models together form the field of GenAI or Generative AI - often called that because they appear to generate or synthesize knowledge. Compared to regular search engines, it often seems that ChatGPT and its equivalents are producing results that are closer to human conversation. However, these models are still only a type of machine learning method; the difference is that they have been trained on extremely la

Disaster management using edge-of-field computing and low-cost sensors

If there is something that has become much clearer in recent years with climate change, it’s that the magnitude and frequency of natural disasters has increased dramatically in the last 5 years. The Office of Management and Budget in the US Government conducted a preliminary analysis this year and concluded that six major types of natural disasters (coastal disasters, flooding, crop failures, climate-related health disasters, wildfires and building failures)   “were likely to result in annual expenditures of approximately $134 billion and could result in as much as $2 trillion in lost revenue by the end of the century”.   As a result, there’s been a lot of interest in technologies that can help responses in the aftermath of disasters as well as those that can help detect these disasters early and hence mitigate the damage from them.   Recently, scientists from OakRidge National Laboratory helped develop a prototype system to detect damaged utility poles from hurricanes and other disas

The water tech startups and funders making a difference

Imagine H2O , one of the largest water incubators working across several countries, recently held their startup showcase day. Imagine H2O has been around for several years now and they have funded and helped promising startups in over 20 countries to date. They have several startups in their portfolio that have focused on using combined sensors or robots, machine learning and physical systems to solve problems around the world. In fact, this seems to be the focus of much of the innovation happening in the water tech sector recently! Let’s take a look at some water tech startups from around the world. AInWater : The startup focuses on using machine learning and traditional optimization algorithms to monitor waste water treatment plants and help improve the efficiency of their operations. They’ve been featured in Forbes and have been working with a number of water utilities in South and Central America. CivilGrid: A fascinating company that builds a digital twin of utility lines, enviro

Building digital twins in clean tech - when water and electricity meet in a world with climate change

Digital twins for water, electricity and smart cities have become more than just a buzzword in the past couple of years. As we’ve discussed before, a “digital twin” of any system is when data from the system, whether through sensors, satellite imagery, drones, robots or SCADA systems, are integrated to form a digital representation of what the system looks like over time. While there have always been researchers in academia and the scientific community working on aspects of these systems, we have seen an explosion of interest across all sectors in the past couple of years. Some of that interest is due to Covid, of course. When the shutdowns happened across the world, a key question that was asked of all physical facilities, especially critical infrastructure like water treatment plants, wastewater plants and power plants, was to develop methods that would allow for remote monitoring of these systems. The answer to that question was a combination of sensor data, machine learning both f

State of the market update - players, funding, jobs and more

If you are working in the high-tech sector or are at a startup, the first half of 2023 was definitely a roller coaster. We saw venture funding dry up for many sectors; saw the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank - the bank where many startups and venture capital funds kept their money; and observed layoffs happen in the technology giants - Google, Facebook, Apple and others. In fact, one of the VC firms, Cervin, did an analysis showing that venture funding has been at an all-time low this year, with only 19 mega deals being signed in Q1 2023 compared to 98 the previous year; funding fell by 53% for angel and seed funding and by 30% for Series A rounds. In fact, except for companies focusing on generative AI and AI adjacent technology in the high-tech sector, it has been an exceptionally difficult year financially. How did the clean-tech sector fare? Unsurprisingly, while there were some impacts on startups and their ability to raise additional funds from venture capital firms, the se

Happy World Environment Day!

Here's to our beautiful blue dot - with all the mountains, oceans, forests, grasslands, animal and plant life that inhabit it. If there's one thing that we as a species can do, it's doing our best to protect our world - for after all, there is no Planet B.  

What’s the impact of your smartphone? Mapping the distribution and environmental impact of mines around the world

How many different materials go into making your smartphone? According to the American Chemical Society, at least 64 different types of chemicals constitute your smartphone . Many of these materials, particularly the heavy earth metals, are extracted from the Earth through mining operations. Mining has been a part of human society for several thousand years now - from the shallow mines of earlier centuries to the more extractive ones created in the last hundred years. The challenge of mining and other extractive industries is that they are essential to many of our needs today - coal for energy, silicon for solar panels and heavy earths for electronics being among the well known ones. At the same time, they cause significant damage to local environments through the disturbance to the land caused by establishing the mine itself, to environmental impacts on water, land and ecosystems from mining operations.   So far, it’s been difficult to map the spatial extent and environmental impact o

Water tech startups in 2023 - where in the world are they?

What are some of the interesting startups in the water sector this year? Water tech typically does not get funded at the same rate as other clean technology sectors - primarily because the time to achieve an acceptable ROI for venture funds is usually longer than the lifecycle of the fund. However, there are still VCs who are interested in funding the water sector and there are always startups that find government funding, partnerships and other ways to build and grow. Let’s take a look at some startups that are combining data science and water to help solve interesting problems! 1. Ainwater , headquartered out of Chile, uses AI-based algorithms to optimize water and wastewater plant operations, ensuring compliance while increasing energy efficiency by 30%. 2. CivilGrid , in the San Francisco Bay Area, helps collect all the geospatial and regulatory information required for water companies and other infrastructure companies to plan their operations. 3. IFlux , out of Belgium, uses a co

Tipping points and the Earth's climate - how do we model the risk?

In April, the IPCC published the next installment of reports on the state of the planet . Several alarms on the state of the planet were sounded - and yet, most researchers were concerned that the report did not go far enough. Why was that? One of the challenges with synthesizing science across multiple areas and bringing it to the point where policy makers can make decisions that follow the science is that the latest research often doesn’t make it into these reports. That’s because the research is cutting-edge, which by definition means that new discoveries are happening and the science is not yet at the point where clear recommendations can be made. Second, with cutting-edge science, researchers are still discussing the nitty-gritty details of what the processes are, what’s driving them and how the system is functioning. That makes it much more difficult to reach a scientific consensus on the topic.   So, what is one such area of cutting edge research in climate science? Climate chan