There is no shortage of disasters around the world – manmade and natural. To keep up with all of the dangers, scientists are always looking for innovative ways to track them. Some recent ideas using Snakebots, “Buried Hair”, and pine needles are especially innovative. Here’s more about them.
Snakebots to Detect Landmines in Cambodia
After decades of war that ended in the late 20th century, Cambodia is still covered in landmines. These landmines pose a significant threat to the locals. It isn’t rare to see adults and children with physical disabilities thanks to landmines.
Since 1992, individuals and organizations have worked to remove landmines. They have done a good job. Over 500,000 mines have been removed so far. Unfortunately, this leaves an estimated 4-6 million more to go.
The biggest problem is the dense vegetation. This makes it hard for humans, machines, dogs, and even rats to do the work. A new robot, the Snakebot, developed by a team at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, is designed to go where others can’t.
The snakebot, which looks a bit like a robot vacuum, carries behind it a Geometrics MFAM magnetometer development kit to detect landmines.
The local communities are hesitant to fully adopt methods that rely solely on technology for fear of militarization. Their history makes them rightfully wary. The snakebot is designed to only supplement human-based demining efforts, not replace them, and is not physically intimidating.
“Buried Hair” to Monitor Icelandic Volcanoes
Grímsvötn is Iceland’s most active volcano. In fact, it may be overdue for a big eruption. An eruption could bring significant flooding and huge ash clouds. Past eruptions spread heavy ash, which worsens air quality and can throw aircraft and local road traffic into chaos.
Now, the “Buried Hair” isn’t real human hair – it’s fiber-optic cable. The team spent many freezing days in a van splicing together the fiber-optic cables – which are as thin as a single human hair.
The fiber optic cables are then buried to create a dense seismic network. A laser pulse is sent and returns along the fiber. Shifts in the timing of the return laser pulse can show localized deformations of the fiber. These correlate to seismicity or other sources of vibration.
The researchers tested the setup by pounding a sledgehammer on the ice. The test showed that the detection setup could be located exactly where the sledgehammer “event” was occurring. More research needs to be done before this method is viable for large scale use, but this is very encouraging.
Using Pine Needles to Track Pollution
At the University of Utah, scientists wanted to develop a more cost-effective and faster method to detect air pollution. The air quality in Salt Lake City can be notoriously poor. There are extra concerns about metallic nanoparticles.
To solve the problem, the researchers turned to pine needles. They discovered they can track pollution using magnetic fields.
Pine needles that are covered in metallic nanoparticles will react to a magnetic field. Using this method researchers can understand how large the nanoparticles are and even what the compounds are.
The researchers hope this research will be expanded to “provide high spatial resolution maps of biomagnetically monitored particulate matter in polluted urban environments year-round.”