Gasbot Sniffs Out Climate Destruction With Lasers

No human wants to go looking for the smelliest parts of landfills, but this little robot is happy to help

2 min read
Gasbot Sniffs Out Climate Destruction With Lasers

Jobs don't get much more dirty than being the person who has to hike around landfills looking for sources of stinkyness. It's an important job, though, because stinkyness means methane, and methane means you're killing the planet. Yes, you. But seriously, figuring out where landfills are leaking is a critical and tedious and decidedly unpleasant thing, and you know what that means: bring on the robots!

Gasbot is a project from the AASS Research Centre at Orebro University in Sweden. It's a Clearpath Robotics Husky A200 mobile robot (awarded for free through Clearpath's Partner Program) equipped with a pair of laser scanners, a GPS, and a remote gas sensor. Specifically, we're talking about a Tunable Laser (LASER!) Absorption Spectrometer, which provides integral concentration measurements of gasses over the path of the laser beam. All you have to do is let Gasbot roam around a site where you think you might have gas leaks, and it will build up a map of concentrations and locations for you, while you see how many scented candles it takes to numb your olfactory centers.

The robot has already been tested in a decommissioned landfill, as well as in an underground tunnel where it was used to localize a leaking gas pipe. In both cases, Gasbot was successful, but there's still a bunch of work to be done before it'll be able to take over from humans. Specifically, it needs to get better at localizing, it has to be able to robustly traverse obstacles like you might find in a real landfill, and it also needs to be able to operate over a several square kilometer area by itself over the course of days or weeks. Doing all of this isn't likely to be easy, but it's almost certainly possible, and it'll give us humans some relief while it provides the data necessary to better manage waste gasses from landfills and biogas production sites. 

[ Paper ] via [ Gasbot ]

Thanks Meghan!

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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