Researches build robot to sniff out methane at landfills

Aug 06, 2013 by Bob Yirka weblog
Researches build robot to sniff out methane at landfills

( —A team of researchers at Sweden's AASS Research Centre at Orebro University has built a robot prototype that moves itself around in its environment searching for methane leaks. In its initial testing phase, the robot, dubbed Gasbot, was able to sniff out artificially created methane sources in a former landfill and in an underground tunnel.

Methane leaks are a constant problem for landfills and other places that are subject to rotting material. Such leaks present a as well as an —some estimates suggest gas emissions contribute up to 2 percent of all manmade . For that reason, scientists have been searching for ways to better detect gas emissions (generally methane) in landfills—the current method relies on sensors being hand placed in suspected areas by technicians—a hit or miss proposition to be sure.

In this new effort, the team in Sweden affixed a Tunable Laser Absorption Spectrometer sensor to a Clearpath Robotics Husky A200—a . They also added a GPS device. The idea is that the robot will roam around a landfill pointing its laser randomly around it as it goes. As it does so, it will be able to take measurements of methane levels around it and then use that information to build a map. Thus, to monitor methane levels at a landfill, all technicians would have to do is read the map sent wirelessly from the robot in the comfort of an indoor facility.

The Husky A200 is essentially a programmable automated box on four wheels—its purpose is to carry equipment or supplies around in a ruggedized fashion. It was designed to be used by researchers working on various robotics projects and is thus highly amendable to multiple configurations via customization.

The researchers report that while they were pleased with the initial successes of the robot prototype, they acknowledge that much more work will need to be done before such a robot will be ready for deployment in a real landfill. Specifically, it will need to be more ruggedized to deal with bigger and the more random nature of obstacles. Also it will need an upgrade to be able to scope out wide areas of terrain autonomously for long periods of time. The ultimate goal is to design a robot that can be produced in large numbers for use in a wide variety of environments as a for-profit venture.

Explore further: AI expert calls on colleagues to take a stand on autonomous killer robots

More information: Project:
Research paper: Towards Real-World Gas Distribution Mapping and Leak Localization Using a Mobile Robot with 3D and Remote Gas Sensing Capabilities

via IEEE Spectrum

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2.8 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2013
And soon enough these landfill mountains can begin to be dismantled and mined robotically. They can be considered hidden strategic reserves.

"Landfills are a largely untapped resource for many strategic metals (Kennedy, 2012). Valuable recyclable materials formerly regarded as waste can be mined from landfills, providing a new source of such material (Fisher 1995). The scope of this resource is vast: In the UK alone, 2 billion tons of waste sit untouched in landfills (Stein). In the US, more than 4.6 million tons of electronic waste were disposed of in American landfills in 2000 ("Where Does E-Waste End Up?"). Such material has potential to provide a new supply for declining supplies of metals such as the platinum group elements and rare earths, both of which are found frequently in electronic products."

"Landfill mining is a rapidly growing area of waste management that is proving to be extremely profitable."
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 07, 2013
I agree Ghost. Eventually these mounds of wastes will be minded for all types of metals and minerals. I read somewhere that Intel has used up nearly half the worlds supply of Hafnium (a high K dielectric) in making the Pentium mobile chips. Eventually it will be extremely valuable knowledge to know how to extract it from the silicon its embedded in. A layer of Hafnium that is only 4 atoms thick!
4 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2013
I'm wondering why they didn't use a quadcopter-style solution (unless the gas sensing equipment is really heavy).
Landfill surfaces may be extremely uneven (or even contain hidden cavities) and upend/trap a surface roving bot .

A quadcopter could blanket the area daily in no time.
It may have to land, as the downwash from the rotors would likley interfere with sensing methane concentrations, but that seems like a very simple problem compared to an autonomous vehicle with pathing issues.

For the tunnel environment mentioned the wheeled robot is probably preferrable. But that's not a usual configuration for a landfill.

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