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Tech can save the Earth in a number of innovative ways

By Brian S Hall / September 30, 2014


Tech can save Earth in a number of ways

If everything else fails, if we fritter away our efforts to support a sustainable, healthy environment, shatter all attempts to achieve lasting peace, lose the battle against chronic ailments that strike down millions, perhaps we can just leave this planet. NASA is already working with Boeing to develop space taxis. If that works, the space agency is also contemplating a space launch system that could take us to Mars. All hail Earth 2.0.

Personally, I don’t believe escape will be necessary. Tech will help us save this planet, bringing together our best tools, our best minds, our greatest hopes, and our very human resolve, and all of it wound inside a computer, a sensor, a robot. Do not fear the future. There is much to look forward to.

Bee prepared

Worried that the planet’s food supply will be decimated as colony collapse kills off the planet’s bee population? Same here! Perhaps these RoboBees can save us. A project at Harvard is reducing robotics to the size of insects, semi-magically incorporating power and sensors within these tiny devices so they can fly, work as a group, even pollinate a field of crops. As promised by the project’s website:

In mimicking the physical and behavioral robustness of insect groups by coordinating large numbers of small, agile robots, we will be able to accomplish such tasks faster, more reliably, and more efficiently.

Each RoboBee sensor allows the tiny bot to sense objects and other RoboBees around them. This enables them to behave like a colony of bees. Although this sounds like something out of a summer blockbuster, this tech is actually in development, and there’s already film to prove it.

Follow the sun

So it looks like we may be able to stave off massive, global collapse of bees, and thus prevent a worldwide food shortage, but there’s still the problem of our addiction to fossil fuels. Except … let me introduce you to solar powered roadways.

Julie and Scott Brusaw, co-founders of Solar Roadways, plan to replace asphalt and concrete roads with solar panels that can handle the weight of automobiles. The idea is so promising, The Federal Highway Administration contracted with the Brusaws back in 2009 to build a solar road prototype. Phase 1 passed with flying colors due to the road’s ability to collect energy from the sun, which can then be used to power fully electric vehicles. Bonus: it can keep roads from icing over.

The current phase 2 of the project is testing the road panels for load, traction and impact. True, the technology remains too costly and difficult, for now, but the potential is truly amazing. If “Solar Freakin Roadways” become a reality, we could cut at least 50% of our current greenhouse gases. The government isn’t the only one excited about these facts and figures. The Solar Roadways Indiegogo page crowdsourced $2,200,341, over twice their $1,000,000 goal. Once major venture capitalists start throwing their money behind this project, funding shouldn’t be a problem.

Speaking of electric cars…

Consider how rapidly the Tesla is advancing. Tesla plans to introduce its low-priced Model 3 by 2017, if it can build enough capacity to meet overwhelming demand. The Model 3 is expected to cost around $50,000. True, that’s $30,000 more than, say, a base model Honda Civic (and 10K less than a Tesla Model S). But remember, the thousands of dollars spent every year on gas are no longer part of the equation. Total cost of ownership makes the Tesla Model 3 a true mass-market vehicle–and one that can significantly reduce harmful emissions.

To have enough batteries to meet demand, Tesla has reached an agreement with the state of Nevada to build a gigafactory, which should begin mass producing the lithium-ion batteries by 2020. Each battery can go 200 miles on a single charge.

It gets even better. Electric cars, solar panel roads and the Internet of Things, all connected, will detect if a driver is fatigued, or about to rage on a nearby commuter. Travel times will be optimized, productivity improved, and stress blessedly reduced. Cleaner air, safer roads, happier people. That’s all good, and that’s without assuming our cars don’t all become autonomous, which is now looking almost inevitable within the next decade.

Tech is so cool

The thing is, technology has a great way of not just progressing, but spreading, seeping into all areas of our lives, even in areas we think it unnecessary. Case in point: this cooler.

Coca-Cola wanted to provide cold Cokes to people in places like Aipir, Columbia, where the temperature hovers around 100 on average, yet most residents do not have electricity. Coke commissioned the “Bio Cooler” from the International Physics Centre in Bogota.

It works like this: the cooler captures power from the sun, which triggers a gas inside the cooler, which cools evaporated water from plants grown atop the cooler. The coolest part is it actually works, and it just might inspire the creation of entirely new devices and new modes of energy optimization. For example, over 3,000 engineers and coders will soon be participating in the planet’s “biggest ever hack against climate change.” Smart people, coming together from across the world, using our newest tech to solve Earth’s biggest problems, could prove to be humanity’s greatest invention.

From Anyone To Anything

Tech can help us do great things. Computing technology, social media, the Internet of Things, plus innovative new materials, 3D printing, machine learning, advances in clean energy, robotics, and more, are providing us with the opportunity to be better and do better. Sometimes it’s on a grand scale, sometimes it’s deeply personal.

When Behzad Rashidizadeh was challenged to create a better crutch, he wound up inventing the Sit & Stand, an IDEA Finalist for its innovative design. The Sit & Stand lets people with leg injuries continue to do most of their normal activities with relative ease.

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Expect more advances of all sizes from all around the world. For example, small connected devices comprising the Internet of Things are already emerging. Technology is not merely an aid. Technology enables us mere mortals to explore and develop what has otherwise been deemed impossible. A Silicon Valley supercomputer recently read 100,000 research papers in 2 hours. According to New Scientist, the computer “found completely new biology hidden in the data.” Specifically, the “KnIT” computer discovered a class of enzymes that suppress tumors, which could lead to new cancer-fighting drugs.

By having computers do the heavy reading for us, we can begin to uncover areas of concern, patterns in the noise, and discover opportunities to make the world better and healthier. KnIT was able to find various bits of data across thousands of research papers, meaning its successor will no doubt find patterns and solutions across thousands of disparate clinical trials, possibly even a cure for cancer. Or, if that’s still untenable, certainly uncover methods for optimizing personal healthcare.

Of course, assuming tech will magically save us could result in only failure. However, tech plus vigilance plus coordinated efforts really can lead to stunning new advances or miraculous corrections of past human transgressions. Consider that the great California blue whale, once on the brink of absolute extinction, is nearly back to historic levels. There remains time to right our wrongs. Now let’s get to work!

Learn more about tech can save the Earth and the future of automation by reading our Internet of Things Trend Report.