Freshwater is vital for life, supporting ecosystems and human civilizations. We use freshwater in many aspects of daily life including food production, power generation, manufacturing, and sanitation. However, due to factors such as climate change and pollution, freshwater resources are becoming increasingly scarce. The lack of freshwater is detrimental; estimates state that roughly 900 million people to 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and approximately 2.5 people do not have access to proper sewage. In addition, this lack of water contributes to water-borne illnesses; roughly 2.5 million die of water-borne illnesses annually (Kluge, 2014).
Robotic Solutions for Freshwater Use
- The companies Liquid Robotics and Openoceanrobotics have designed and developed Marine robots embedded with a number of sensors to collect data from the aquatic environment. Although this approach is rather passive, it allows for the consistent monitoring of the water; and later preventative technologies can allow us to prevent a problem before it spirals beyond control.
- Additionally, some companies take a more active approach and focus on the restation of aqueous environments. For example, The company RanMarine, Clear Blue Sea, IADYS utilizes autonomous surface vessels for collecting human trash and unwanted biomass.
- On a smaller—but no less impactful—scale, the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom developed the Row-bot in 2015: a project to create an autonomous robot that feeds off an organic matter in the dirty water it swims in, modeled after a water boatman insect. The Row-bot project aims to develop an autonomous swimming robot able to operate indefinitely in remote unstructured locations by scavenging its energy from the environment. When it is hungry, the Row-bot opens its soft robotic mouth and rows forward to fill its microbial fuel cell (MFC) stomach with nutrient-rich dirty water. It then closes its mouth and slowly digests the nutrients. The MFC stomach uses the bio-degradation of organic matter to generate electricity using bio-inspired mechanisms. When it has recharged its electrical energy stores, the Row-bot rows off to a new location, ready for another gulp of dirty water.
To see ongoing research and development for controlling the factors affecting Freshwater Use, click here.
To deep dive into the research publications about Freshwater Use, click here.
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 Garrick, D., Iseman, T., Gilson, G., Brozovic, N., O’Donnell, E., Matthews, N., Miralles-Wilhelm, F., Wight, C., & Young, W. (2020). Scalable solutions to freshwater scarcity: Advancing theories of change to incentivize sustainable water use. Water Security, 9, 100055.