Uber's flying taxis and offshore robot repairs: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of climate negotiations at Bonn, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the future.

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

You’d be forgiven for viewing COP23 in Bonn as a side dish. It follows on from two historic climate conferences: the Paris talks where a global deal was struck, and Marrakesh, where the US withdrew from said global deal. It is also the prelude to COP24 in Poland, which will unveil an official roadmap to reaching the targets of the Paris Agreement.

But if the first week is anything to go, COP23 is determined to pick up the pace on climate action. Business leaders have already sent their aims and wishes to delegates at the conference, and have called for a coherent carbon price to be issued across numerous markets.

If CDP evidence is anything to go by, perhaps these business should make progress on implementing an internal price on water; only 7% of the disclosing respondents to a data call currently utilise one.

This week will be remembered as the time that the US was “left out in the cold” on climate action, after Syria became the latest and last signatory to the Paris Agreement. The US’ withdrawal process will actually take three more years to become official though.

While Bonn focuses on climate action at a global scope, business pledges are arriving. HSBC has pledged to provide $100bn in sustainable financing by 2025 - as part of a new batch of climate-related commitments.

But if efforts to curb global warming are to become a reality, new business models, products and technologies are required. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

ORCA-strating change

Maintenance for offshore windfarms can be a time-consuming activity, but a new consortium of UK universities hopes to reduce time and effort by turning to artificial intelligence and robotics. The consortium calls itself the ORCA Hub – short for Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets.

Consisting of the Heriot-Watt University, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool, the consortium is embarking on a £36m project to advance AI technologies.

Specifically, the project will advance inspections, maintenance and repairs of offshore assets in unpredictable ocean environments. It is hoped the technologies developed will at least be semi-autonomous and capable of carrying out the repairs remotely.

Taxi haven

Uber’s move to electrify its portfolio is being taken to new heights, after the ride-sharing firm announced a partnership with NASA to create autonomous flying taxis. The current partnership will develop the autonomous software rather than the actual vehicle.

The firm hopes to test four-passenger UberAir vehicles, capable of reaching 200mph, across Los Angeles in 2020, and wants an operational air service available in time for the 2028 LA Olympics. Uber revealed that the vehicles would be fully-electric.

If the vision becomes reality, an 80-minute car journey in rush hour traffic could be shortened to just four minutes. Uber will now develop unmanned traffic management systems and drones as a result. The company also signed a deal with Sanstone Properties to create “skyports” that act as collection points for the flying taxis.

A sticky situation

It is estimated that UK printing companies are sending 120,000 tonnes of label waste to landfill each year. The waste needs shredding before it can be recycled and reused, and the thick and sticky nature of the labels often causes machine failures, and are thus deemed unrecyclable.

However, Prismm Environmental has been sponsored by the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) to provide services that negate this problem. Since 2015, Prismm has diverted 42,190 tonnes of label waste away from landfill.

Prismm’s Zero Labels 2 Landfill campaign converts the label waste into high-value solid recovered fuel, that can then be used in the production of cement. Solid recovered fuel largely consists of biodegradable, composite and construction waste. Prismm can account for matrix waste, glassine, silicon packaging paper, waste foil on cores and make-ready and set-up reels, with collections ranging from 600kg to 26 tonnes nationwide.

Shelter from the storm

The recent hurricanes and storms that have wreaked havoc on communities have highlighted the need for more accessible emergency responses. One aspect of natural disaster response is the need for emergency shelters.

BRE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are unveiling a potential new solution to this next week at the BRE Innovation Park in Watford. The 17.5m² Humanitarian Shelter can be occupied by a family of five – each with 3.5m² of space per person -  to showcase how emergency shelters should be constructed for resilience, rapid construction and deployment.

Crucially, the shelter will make use of any local skills material and labour and can be constructed using stone, timber, bamboo or grass thatch. Concrete and metal sheets can be used in construction and BRE claims that the shelter could act as a permanent house in some countries.

Feed the world

Climate change and population growth are combining to create a poisonous cocktail of depleted food resources and too many mouths to feed. As part of a quest to feed a population expected to reach nine billion, scientists from Columbia University’s Earth institute claim to have found a simple alleviation strategy.

The strategy centres on shifting traditional crop growth patterns to rearrange where they are grown. Reliance on staples like rice, wheat and sugar would be replaced with soybean, roots and groundnuts.

Notably, the strategy could create 19% more protein per meal and create enough food to feed an extra 825 million people. A study found that this new model could cut irrigation water use by 12% across 42 countries such as Mexico, India and Egypt.

Get street smart on air quality

Earlier this year, Google released its first block-by-block data set in California that maps street-level air quality. Four months on from the release, Google has now completed an entire scan of the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Los Angeles.

Sensors have been fitted to cars that can measure nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, black carbon, particulate matter and methane. The aim of the initiative is to map an area to unveil polluting hotspots, which can then be avoided by the general public.

Vehicles covered 100,000 miles during a 4,000-mile timeframe to collect data from sensors provided by Aclima. Google says it's now collected more than a billion data points, some of which can be accessed by scientists to use in studies.

Matt Mace


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