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Robots to the rescue: High-tech helpers

November 13, 2023

From drones supplying remote villages with medication to robots taking on dangerous jobs, smart technology is helping people to go higher, faster and further. When lives are at stake, high-tech can often outperform humans.


Tom Plümmer's "Wingcopter" is half helicopter, half airplane. The drone with a two-meter wingspan has started delivering parcels in Germany and is already ferrying crucially needed medication supplies in Malawi. Drone stations being set up there by the inventor receive emergency calls from remote villages. The Wingcopters are then loaded up with vaccines, medication and other supplies before being guided via GPS to their destinations - which are difficult and time-consuming to reach by car. Swiss engineer Péter Fankhauser built his first autonomous robot in 2018. "ANYmal" resembles a large, metal dog and learns continuously: climbing stairs, analyzing data from its thermal-imaging camera, and navigating its way through smoke with the help of laser sensors. That skill set makes it attractive for use in the chemical industry and oil and gas refineries with their vulnerability to accidents involving fires and explosions. "We can operate the plant safely and remove individuals from the danger area", says the engineer. "In an indirect sense, the robot saves lives." ANYmal is now set to demonstrate its talents at the world's biggest chemical company. Stefan Sosnowski and his fellow-researchers have custom-built a boat fitted with artificial intelligence and underwater robots to clear up the millions of tons of waste polluting the seabed - for humans, a risky environment to venture into. An initial deployment in Hamburg docks will determine the feasibility of "SeaClear" being used in challenging conditions elsewhere. "If we can make it here with the poor visibility underwater," says Sosnowski, "then we'll make it everywhere."

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