Gasbot is a methane-sniffing landfill robot

Posted by Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling

Methane is everywhere, and that’s pretty bad news for our planet. Thanks to gassy cows, the natural gas boom, and lots and lots of garbage rotting in our landfills, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled since the industrial revolution.

Over time, this excess methane has exacerbated the dramatic warming we’re seeing in the arctic and oceans.

Methane can also be useful, however, especially when trapped and used as fuel to produce electricity. In fact, many feel that our stinking landfills could actually be converted into methane power plants, if only we new how to harvest them efficiently. Well, the answer to that problem could come in the form of a little machine called Gasbot.

gasbot prototype

Image via Örebro University/Robot Dalen

Based on previous research at Sweden’s Örebro University, Gasbot is a mobile-robot platform equipped with methane gas sensors. It is thought that such an autonomous tool could be deployed in landfills and along gas pipelines for around the clock leak detection and gas distribution mapping.

So far, the team from Örebro’s AASS Research Centre has been able to assemble a working prototype using a Clearpath Robotics Husky A200 mobile robot that’s been outfitted with a pair of laser scanners, a GPS, and a remote gas sensor [pdf].

The idea is that Gasbot could be unleashed in a landfill or a underground tunnel for natural gas, and it would be able to build up a map of methane concentrations and locations.

“The robot has already been tested in a decommissioned landfill, as well as in an underground tunnel where it was used to localize a leaking gas pipe,” reports IEEE Spectrum. “In both cases, Gasbot was successful, but there’s still a bunch of work to be done before it’ll be able to take over from humans. Specifically, it needs to get better at localizing, it has to be able to robustly traverse obstacles like you might find in a real landfill, and it also needs to be able to operate over a several square kilometer area by itself over the course of days or weeks.”

And even though it would be nice to spot gas leaks quicker or make use of landfill methane, Gasbot isn’t a silver bullet for stopping global warming. We’d need a much bigger robot, with much bigger lasers (aimed at every industrial polluter in the world) to do that.