Green IoT: Precise Positioning for the Environment

20.04.2022 by Daniel Kunz
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Precise positioning helps autonomous vehicles to find their way around, for instance. That is obvious. But can the technology be good for nature? A few examples from practice demonstrate that it can.

To understand why Green IoT technologies like precise positioning are so valuable it helps first to take a look at the situation in the (global) environment. How much importance do people in Europe attach to the environment nowadays? A lot, according to a 2020 Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission. For 94 per cent of respondents environmental protection was important. The greatest threats that nature faced, they said, included climate change, air pollution and the increase in littering. The figures are indeed alarming. Global warming already causes around 12 billion euros of damage a year in the European Union, as Frans Timmermanns, Vice-President of the European Commission, reported at the beginning of 2021. The European Environment Agency announced in December 2020 that in 2019 over 300,000 people were estimated to have died in the EU from the consequences of poor air quality. And the nature conservation association NABU says that around 380 tons of plastic a year flow into the North Sea from the Rhine River alone. 

Yet even though people think environmental protection is important, nature is still suffering – and, increasingly, people are suffering too. So use must be made of every opportunity to conserve the environment, not just in Europe but all over the world. Modern IoT technology can help even if, at first glance, it may appear to be predestined for use in other areas. This is where precise positioning comes into play. Accurate to within a centimeter, high-precision GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) positioning enables autonomous robots, cars and other vehicles to navigate safely and precisely. But the solution developed jointly by Deutsche Telekom and Swift Navigation is suitable not only for directing goods and people from A to B; a number of companies are using it to do the environment a good turn by combating inter alia littering, climate change and air pollution.

Capra Robotics: Autonomous Robots vs. Toxic Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts are small but dangerous. They contain thousands of toxins and disintegrate very slowly. Tossed thoughtlessly aside, they pose a threat to plants and animals. Picking them up is easier said than done. Large sweepers often miss them and collecting them by hand is would be too time-consuming. This is where a solution developed by a Danish company, Capra Robotics, comes into its own. An autonomous robot by the name of Butty identifies cigarette butts with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI) and vacuums them up. Butty navigates by means of sensors and precise positioning enables it to be accurate to within four centimeters. To test the IoT technology the manufacturer first installed in the robot a precise positioning evaluation kit including the cloud-based correction service Skylark for even more accurate positioning. A PGM (Precision GNSS Module) receiver relays end-to-end precise positioning data to Butty’s control system, enabling the robot to remain constantly mobile. The results of precise positioning quickly spoke for themselves. Compared with standard GNSS, navigation is significantly more efficient and Butty can function faster. 

All concerned benefit from this Green IoT use case. Capra Robotics and its customers can deploy trash collection robots more efficiently thanks to the positioning technology. Using machines frees up human employees who can perform other relevant tasks. The IoT solution thereby adds value and the environment benefits by being cleared of more trash in less time.

Angsa Robotics: GNSS Positioning Prevents Damage

Waste disposal with the aid of robots is an issue in Germany too. The Munich-based company Angsa Robotics manufactures autonomous machines that remove trash independently from specified areas that range from parks and green spaces to open-air event locations. Angsa robots reliably remove trash from lawns and gravel surfaces that conventional sweepers are often unable to clear up optimally.

Like Butty, Angsa Robotics devices use AI to identify trash and sensors to navigate. Precise positioning combined with the Skylark GNSS correction service has several advantages. For one, it is much more accurate than standard GNSS solutions. So the robot works faster. In addition, by evaluating precise data trash hot spots can be identified where a great deal of trash gathers very quickly and sweepers are required at more frequent intervals. For another, GNSS correction services like Skylark enable deployment areas to be defined exactly by means of geofencing. This ensures that the smart devices operate in the exact area where they are intended to work. It also prevents them from, say, plunging down a slope, driving onto a road or ending up in a waterway. 

In this case precise positioning can as a Green IoT technology can increase both the efficiency and the safety and profitability of trash robots because they neither break down nor are lost. They are good for the environment and good for enterprises. The longer they are used the more trash they can collect and the more profitably they can be put to use.

SolarCleano: Smart Systems for Green Energy

Along with increased littering, air pollution has serious consequences for humans and the environment. Together with vehicles with combustion engines the conversion of energy sources into electricity and heat is a major cause of harmful CO2 emissions. The alternative is to generate clean energy such as solar. Global demand for energy is, however, so high that solar power generation facilities would need to be enormous. That is why deserts are often a preferred location. They have plenty of space and sunlight, but dust and dirt on the solar panels can be a problem by impairing output. Cleaning them by hand is often not an option because, inter alia, the panels are too big and there are too many of them.

This is where SolarCleano offers a solution. The Luxembourg-based company has developed the SolarCleano F1A, a robot that cleans solar panels autonomously. Using driverless transportation systems the robots can be moved automatically from one panel to the next. Both devices rely on precise positioning to clean the solar panels precisely and not, for example, fall off a roof due to inaccurate navigation. 

SolarCleano equips its robots with the evaluation kit of the Swift Precise Positioning GNSS Module (PGM), which has the same correction function as the Skylark. Not even bad weather like heavy rainfall affects the signal. The cleaning robots maneuver safely across the solar panels, passing smoothly from one panel to the next. Thanks to Green IoT the SolarCleano solution helps to make the use of renewables more suitable for everyday use and more efficient. 

IoT as the Basis for New and Sustainable Business Models

Using new technologies not just to boost efficiency but to benefit the environment is a basic idea behind Green IoT. With precise positioning from Telekom and Swift Navigation it is a target that can be achieved. More precise than standard GPS, the system opens up new opportunities for automation that make life on Earth more sustainable now and in the future. 

Capsa Robotics, Angsa Robotics and SolarCleano also demonstrate that IoT technologies like precise positioning can be the basis for new or extended business models. It requires the high level of precision to implement use cases such as robot systems reliably. And thanks to Telekom’s international IoT availability projects can kick in precisely where they are most needed. Precise positioning, for example, is already available nationwide in Germany and the United States, while in Europe its availability is continuously being expanded.


 

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Daniel Kunz
Daniel Kunz

Expert Digital Marketing

Digitization and the Internet of Things are among the favourite topics of Daniel Kunz. He has been with Deutsche Telekom since 2017 and regularly writes about technology trends and many exciting topics, especially for the retail trade and the logistics industry.