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Robotics To Decarbonize The Earth

Robotics, Climate Change, Decarbonization8 min read

S Varun Kumar

Meet S Varun Kumar

Post-graduate Robotics Student @ University of Bath

England, United Kingdom 

S Varun Kumar is from Chennai, India who is currently a post-graduate student in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom focusing on Robot navigation, perception, control, and telemanipulation.

He graduated in 2019 with a First Class and Distinction in Instrumentation and Control Engineering from St. Joseph’s College of Engineering, India.

Varun is determined to use the knowledge gained in robotics to tackle major issues related to climate change and helping towards a safer and greener world through robotics.


What inspired you to pursue a career in robotics?

“To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be”

Ever since I could remember, I have had only one goal, which is to be a researcher.

Growing up watching shows such as Discovery channels’ “How it’s made” and “Technology Planet”, I cannot put my finger on just one reason to become a researcher, but it was evident that my fascination and curiosity to know how something could influence and drive our lives has sparked my interest in Engineering.

I like to understand things, I like to build things and I get a joy in seeing my creations in action. For me, engineering was just a natural continuation of my childhood curiosity.

Robotics is very vast and it certainly encompasses every field of engineering.

During my Master’s I realized that robotics is a delicate balance between hard study and "fiddling about" (as I like to call it), i.e. working on physical things.

A career in robotics became my fixed goal from a childhood dream by looking at robots from science fiction into our everyday life, seamlessly collaborating and working together towards a safer society.

I was fascinated by the scope of robotics when I saw a video about Canadarm which is a robotic arm that was used on the Space Shuttle orbiters to deploy, maneuver, and capture payloads in space.

How robotics are helping in the fight against climate change?

“Climate change is a major problem and robotics is the promising step towards a feasible solution”

It is about combating climate change in particular, where robots can provide tangible benefits:

  • Preventing pollution and emissions: through smart sensor monitoring and reducing the release of harmful greenhouse gases.

  • Optimizing the manufacturing processes through micro-factories having precision digital manufacturing methodologies leading to increased production.

  • Precision strength: Agile Robots minimizing the need for larger less-efficient machines thereby reducing energy consumption and increasing accuracy.

  • Eliminating product waste: More efficient use of raw materials and smarter robots to perform non-value-added tasks.

Interestingly, a Robo-jellyfish developed at Florida Atlantic University is aiming to fight climate change by deploying biological inspired soft robots into the Atlantic Ocean to conduct reef research and monitor rapid changes and anomalies in the water due to pollution.

With regards to the latter, roboticists across the globe are rising to tackle the dullest, dangerous, and possibly the dirtiest job – sorting garbage.

Effective sorting of garbage is a major step towards addressing climate change. In the past year, the waste industry has begun to embrace new software and mechatronic innovations to bring down costs.

For example, a Finnish company ZenRobotics utilizes machine learning, computer vision, and synchronized robotic arms to sort and pick recycled materials from moving conveyor belts.

Explain the robotics for additive manufacturing, their applications, and the work you’ve done?

Working with Robert J Bush, CEO and brains behind Additive Automations, who strongly believes to reimagine the factory through smarter software-defined manufacturing I happened to catch a first-hand glimpse of the role of robotics in metal 3D additive manufacturing.

The ultimate goal is to automate toxic machining processes in additive manufacturing previously carried by humans by harnessing computer vision guided software and intelligent end of arm robot tools.

As a part of their team, I had a chance to work alongside experienced professionals from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) based in Sheffield for the development of novel end of arm tools for the robot with ancillary automation features to perform tasks like grinding, clipping, cutting, etc.

The project is currently in fast progress to enable automation in non-value added manual processes such as support removal using collaborative industrial robots thereby reducing production costs, increase reliability by using robots, and also weave digital technology into conventional metal additive manufacturing to protect people and the earth.

What is the importance of robotics and autonomous systems in our society?

Robotics and autonomous systems are differentiated from other machines by their ability to perform physical tasks autonomously. They have the potential to enact a wide range of individual tasks.

The future market for robotics and the autonomous system is currently wide open; key markets are yet to be defined, standards set, value and supply chains created.

Embracing this opportunity will deliver various benefits to our society.

Considering the COVID’19 pandemic we are in right now, the importance of autonomous assistive robots has risen immensely in the healthcare and safety sector.

One example is Kiwibot, which uses smart sensors and cutting-edge behavioral neural networks for an autonomous mobile robot for delivery service in a faster and cheaper way reducing congestion caused by delivery cars and contributing towards decarbonization.

I had a similar experience during my master’s coursework project, which aimed to demonstrate autonomous navigation of a mobile Husarion Robots with obstacle avoidance to allow a robot to navigate to its desired goal destination in an unknown and unstructured environment using a bespoke hierarchical finite state machine in ROS.

As we move towards a future where services will be delivered through increasing collaborative interaction between people and robots, the impact of robotics and autonomous systems will be at large.

Do you have any Robotics project that you are working on and want to share your experience with us?

Robotics in AgriTech is blooming and is the most promising scope of research and development for robotics in the years to come.

To my amazement, I never wondered about the need for robotics in the poultry sector. To give a small introduction, consider the chicken farming and broiler industry which has always been a mystery in the UK and around the world.

From diced chicken meat reaching TESCO to our plates at home, we never wonder about the entire process and the people involved in it.

The project that I am currently working on is a machine vision-guided robotics project that sprung from the COVID’19 pandemic funded by the ESMERA consortium.

I take the role of a Lead Roboticist among talented machine vision engineers of Flox.ai for the improvement of chicken welfare and to reduce the need for manual labor for repetitive tasks inside the shed.

The project is to design and engineer a mobile UGV (Shed Robot) to navigate, maneuver inside a chicken shed which can be as big as 80 to 120 meters through to break dense clusters, avert idleness and increase the mobility of chickens which directly correlate to the chicken health, quality of meat resulting in better food cost ratio conversion rate (FCR).

It is not only about the removal of manual labor from performing these tasks but also to help the farmers to divert their attention towards more important and productive activities.

The project was a great experience for me to see my work to be used for practical application towards the betterment of society. It was indeed a steep learning curve and I had to wear multiple hats to keep the project rolling and achieving the milestones.

Nonetheless, it’s always satisfying to see the robot you build to go out there and do its job successfully.

I recently presented a sponsored webinar where I reached to students about my experience in the U.K

I talked about the current scopes in robotics post-COVID-19.

How does the project help to decarbonize the earth through robotics?

When you talk about decarbonization of the earth, the topic is vast and hard to pinpoint on particular issues and problems to tackle.

My vision is to bring forth decarbonization not only through the transition from gasoline cars to electric vehicles but to incorporate smarter and effective methods to reduce cost, increase productivity in any sector through robotics.

According to the article in the poultry site, the huge problem in the chicken shed is ammonia and CO2 concentration due to the litter accumulation which affects the environment inside and outside the shed.

Ammonia concentrations of 20 to 25 ppm in a poultry house can cause negative impacts on the birds and the farmers entering the shed making them more susceptible to respiratory diseases.

It is said that if a person can sit inside the chicken shed with a coffee and read an entire newspaper, the condition inside the shed is satisfactory.

Conventional methods include manual labor to turn the litter whereas now the Shed robot is proposed to carry out these activities to reduce the need for strenuous labor and also provide accurate real-time information about the conditions inside the shed without any human intervention.

It a proud moment to work on projects like this which have a positive impact not only for the farmers but also for the birds.

What robotics project you have worked on to exemplify the importance of safety in human-robot interaction?

The complexity of robotics is related to the tasks there perform. Regardless of the availability of highly sophisticated techniques and ever-increasing computing capabilities, the problems associated with robots interacting with unstructured environments remains an open challenge.

I am constantly guided in my project by my supervisors Despina Moschou and Uriel Martinez-Hernandez specialized in Bioelectronics and human-robot interaction from the University of Bath.

Phil Kitchen, who is a renowned specialized in collaborative robotics from AMRC has also guided me through the importance and various safety standards in human-robot collaboration applications.

Despite great advances in autonomous robotics, there are unprecedented situations where a human-in-the-loop is still required, such as nuclear, space, subsea, and robotic surgery operations. In such scenarios, telemanipulation is introduced where the human operator will immerse into a remote environment and control a teleoperated robot.

As haptic feedback and gestures are considered standard methods for telecontrol of a robot, I realized there are still other vital parameters that can be measured, through which interaction between humans and robots can be enhanced.

My current thesis research is aimed to address the effects of human fatigue and stress-induced errors in a teleoperation process.

It involves the implementation of a bilateral telemanipulation control strategy for a robot platform using biological signals inputs (glucose, lactose, perspiration rate, heart rate, EMG signals) from the human operator

The goal of my project is to mitigate human fatigue and stress-induced performance errors and provide a predictive fault alert system to enhance transparency and stability for prolonged teleoperation tasks.

How robotics is being received in the UK and what industries are applying it?

Some of the world's leading robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers are based in the UK, where they are working to harness the technology to address some of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

The article by UKRI mentions some of the current works in the field of Robotics and AI in the UK.

For example, UKAEA researches fusion energy and related technologies, intending to position the UK as a leader in sustainable nuclear energy.

The Remote Application in challenging environments (RACE) team at UKAEA work on telemanipulation of Robotics in hazardous, remote environments i.e. nuclear fusion reactors.

Some Robotics companies like ROVCO are specialized in subsea exploration, the small robot company focusses on robots in the agriculture farming sector, Bots and Us a start-up based in London is engaged in deploying assistive robots in public spaces, Oxbotica is a popular tech company based in Oxford for driverless cars.

Ocado Technology uses a swarm of robots for large scale warehouse management and packaging.

The scope for robotics is unimaginable and it all lies in the willingness to learn and investigate problems.


For more about S Varun Kumar projects go to varunreveals