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India: AI Tech for Environmental Restoration

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The Meghalaya state government intends to deploy an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robotic boat to clean the Umiam Lake, which is polluted with plastic waste. The Umkharh and Umshyrpi rivers flow through the state capital, Shillong, bringing large amounts of plastic waste every day and depositing it into the lake’s southern region. This area is only accessible by boat.

Under the non-profit Smart Village Movement, which works with the state government to implement various projects, a Hong Kong-based company was shortlisted to demonstrate its cleaning technology. According to an official from the company, the boat will be able to clean the mess in a short period of time. The boat the company brought here is a small one, which can pull out 200-400 kg of waste daily. If the bogger boat is put into work, all the waste will be cleared over the next few months.

The company demonstrated how the self-deriving boat collects 200 kg of waste in one session for one week. Currently, it has boats that are cleaning waste in Varanasi and Bengaluru. As per a government report, the local fishermen from the neighbouring village of Mawdun have expressed their appreciation for the initiative to clean up the lake. One of them mentioned that he and his fellow fishermen had become discouraged due to the situation. The accumulation of waste has significantly hampered fishing activities. Having witnessed the capabilities of the robotic machine, residents are more optimistic.

If commissioned with the job, the cleaning cost of the cleaning boats is nearly equal to that of an earthmover. The state’s Chief Minister, Conrad K Sangma, will oversee the entire project implementation.

India’s rivers are grappling with escalating pollution caused by the unregulated discharge of untreated sewage and industrial pollutants, coupled with agricultural runoff containing harmful chemicals. Furthermore, the dumping of non-biodegradable waste, especially plastics, compounds the issue. Technology presents a promising remedy. Advanced water treatment systems can purify contaminated water, while real-time monitoring and data analytics can aid in early pollution detection.

In 2021, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur (IIT-Kanpur) developed a web-based system to monitor pollution levels of the Ganges River. The project was sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF). The system was installed at the Laxman Ghat on the banks of the Ganges in Bithoor, a town in Kanpur.

As OpenGov Asia reported, the low-cost, multi-parameter, water quality monitor, Niracara Svayamsasita Vedh Shala (NSVS), consists of sensors and autosamplers on a stationary platform, which is semi-submersible, all-weather, robust, and stable. The aquatic autonomous observatory enabled in-situ monitoring, real-time data transmission, and web-based visualisation of the river. The project was carried out by a team of earth scientists, and mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineers from IIT-Kanpur.

The NSVS system can sense three parameters, namely, pH levels, conductivity, and the dissolved oxygen capacity of water. This can be further used to estimate total dissolved solids, specific gravity, and the presence of metallic ions in water. The system can autonomously collect data every 15 minutes and report it through a wireless network to the institute. For self-sustenance, the platform is equipped with energy harvesting systems comprising solar cells and a vortex-induced vibration system that can extract energy from the flow of the river. It has an open-platform architecture so that other institutes can integrate similar projects with the IIT-Kanpur module.


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