IFAT Industry Insights

Artificial intelligence for environmental technologies

At the IFAT impact Business Summit, experts demonstrated the potential of using artificial intelligence in the environmental technology sector. And two start-up entrepreneurs delivered the practical examples.

“Artificial intelligence in the greentech sector can have the most direct and strongest influence on the management of climate change and the circular economy,” Dr. Philipp Gerbert was sure. The Director at appliedAI, Germany's leading initiative for artificial intelligence (AI), was one of the experts in the live online discussion "Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Technology" at the IFAT impact Business Summit held in mid-September this year. However, according to him, AI must first eliminate its own carbon footprint consisting of emissions from the power consumption of the data centers.

In his keynote, Prof. Dr. Ralf Boris Wehrspohn, Executive Vice President for Technology Marketing and Business Models of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft e.V. also referred to the many possible applications of AI and machine learning in water management, ranging from online monitoring of drinking water and improving the efficiency and resilience of wastewater treatment plants to sustainable urban water management.

Barriers to technology transfer

However, before good research and development ideas in the field of artificial intelligence can become marketable products, there are many time-consuming obstacles to be overcome, which, according to Dr. Gerbert, in particular include the scaling of the solutions found. In this context, Prof. Wehrspohn emphasized: “The best and fastest way to transfer AI and machine learning technology is through start-ups.”

Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities for the management of climate change and circular economy Shutterstock, Robsonphoto

Example: Efficient fleet planning close to customer needs

adiutaByte (Sankt Augustin/Germany) was represented in the discussion group as one of these praised young companies. Its co-founder and managing director Dr. Dustin Feld reported: "In our fleet planning software, we combine specialist human knowledge—about processes, the participating people and their wishes—with algorithmic strength in mathematical optimization.” He referred to last year's "Waste Hunter" project, which involved solutions for fleet planning in bulky waste collection of the city of Herne/Germany, as an example of application from the environmental industry. Many factors were considered, such as the inner-city traffic situation, the weather, and events. As a result, the service center employees were relieved, tours were planned more reliably, and the number of kilometers driven was reduced. According to Dr. Feld, the environment was thus spared eight tons of CO2 emissions.

Example: Autonomous robot cleans festival grounds and parks

The start-up Angsa Robotics from Garching near Munich/Germany wants to make the world a little bit cleaner by means of an autonomous robot that is able to detect and suck up small waste objects such as cigarette butts, crown caps or pieces of plastic on grass or gravel surfaces. “Essential is the artificial neural network we have developed, which is trained with thousands of images,” Angsa co-founder Karl Schulz described their project in the discussion group. “Based on this large amount of data, the robot can ignore other objects, such as leaves and twigs.” The system is currently available as a prototype and targets festival organizers and public park managements. Commercial availability is planned for 2021.

Organizer of the discussion was the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection.

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