AI-powered robot microscopes will help clean up the world’s water supplies

AI-powered robot microscopes will help clean up the world’s water supplies

Water shortage is a problem that could affect up to a quarter of the world’s population by 2025. The behavior of microscopic plankton can give vital clues on everything from chemical pollution levels to temperature change.

Autonomous, robotic cameras developed by IBM and powered by AI have the potential to monitor this behavior in more detail than has been possible before. Data from the cameras can be analyzed to give real-time insights into factors affecting water quality and life in our lakes and oceans.


Ahead of today’s release, Jeff Welser, vice president and lab director at IBM Research told me “So with internet of things (IoT) we talk about putting sensors everywhere – and this is an example of just how far we can take this, when we combine it with AI.

“We know people are going to have all kinds of problems with clean water in the future, and we know there are micro-organisms in water, that if we can get them to tell us what’s happening that would be a really great way to understand any potential problems.”

Making the devices as low-powered as possible is essential, in order to be able to deploy them at scale. To this end, they don’t contain lenses or focus mechanisms or other complicated mechanical parts, but simply track shadows and movements through light sensors.

“We can get a lot of information from that”, Welser says. “Are the microscopic organisms moving around as they should be? There’s a lot of interesting science on what that behavior means.”

  1. Crypto-Anchors and blockchains to fight Counterfeiter

Nobody likes knockoffs – blockchain and crypto-anchors will help to crack down on counterfeiting as well as ensure security in the food supply chain

With $600 billion a year lost to the global economy through fraud and counterfeiting, blockchain offers the potential to ensure the provenance of everything from food to diamonds and life-saving medicines.

In a global economy, goods pass through many different sets of hands between their point of production and the end consumer. This leaves them open to tampering and theft problems which blockchain technology could help to eliminate.

In order to work, however, there needs to be a tamper-proof link between the physical products and the digital records on the blockchain. This is where crypto-anchors come in – microscopic codes or identifiers which can serve as “digital fingerprints” to ensure security at every stage of the journey.

“The challenge here is that the blockchain can record all the transactions but somewhere you’ve got to link the transactions to the actual physical object itself – so that you know the banana that got scanned is the actual banana that got to you,” Welser tells me.

“What crypto anchors do is they basically embed tiny codes, like microscopic QR codes, in a way that makes it so that if you tried to replace it with a similar one, you could tell it had been tampered with. When you put those codes onto the blockchain, the supply chain is then protected.”

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