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Robot May Protect Workers from Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureIn an effort to control the pollution problem, entire cities and neighborhoods have adopted recycling programs. And it’s not just the number of programs that’s expanding – it’s also the number of materials. In addition to plastic, glass and paper, more programs are accommodating the collection of compost and electronics.

However, the construction and demolition industries leave much to be desired by way of waste recycling. This is due to several reasons, including the fact that this waste is still manually sorted, and the risk of asbestos exposure and other hazardous materials is still an issue.

Fortunately, scientists aren’t content to let waste reduction efforts lag. Recently, I read an article from CNN that talked about a tech company based in Finland. The innovators at ZenRobotics created a robot with artificial intelligence that enables it to learn how to sort through the recyclable rubble of construction and demolition waste.

Once this technology is perfected, it can mean a real boon to workers who wouldn’t have to worry as much about asbestos exposure when cleaning up waste from buildings.

Robotic ‘brain’ can apply knowledge at conveyor belt
Experts estimate that construction and demolition are responsible for more than one-third of all solid waste. In the U.S., this amounts to 325 million tons every year. This trend coincides with the deplorable fact that 80 percent of potentially recyclable waste eventually ends up in landfills.

When it comes to waste from buildings, the organization of these materials has a lot of room for improvement.

Jufo Peltomaa, founder of ZenRobotics, was reportedly struck by inspiration when he watched a documentary that featured the disposal and recycling of a B52 bomber. The employees picking through the waste looked bored, and Peltomaa thought it would be helpful to have a robotic sorter.

The ZenRobotics Recycler, or ZRR, is equipped with technology that allows for weight measurement, tactile assessment, three-dimensional scanning and more – all of which allows the machine to sort through different types of material on a conveyor belt.

Where is the asbestos in all the rubble?
Although asbestos exposure is the only proven cause of fatal diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, there are still many products that include this material in their manufacturing processes. These include vermiculite insulation, certain cement products, vinyl flooring and adhesives, roofing and siding shingles, textured paint and patching compounds, piping insulation and furnace gaskets. Asbestos-containing products are particularly plentiful in buildings that were constructed before the 1980s.

Typically, asbestos products pose no health problems to people as long as they are kept intact. However, this is not the case during demolition, and the physical disturbances can send mineral fibers airborne.

However, a machine like the ZRR can make asbestos exposure unnecessary for demolition and construction crews.

Other inventions are on the horizon
What’s exciting to us at Kazan Law is the fact that the ZRR isn’t the only gadget in development that can help protect people from asbestos fibers. Scientists from the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. have invented a device that can analyze air samples for the presence of asbestos fibers in real time. This is a vast improvement over current techniques of asbestos detection, which can take hours. The first commercially available devices should be ready within the next two years.

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