Lean, Green, AI Machines: 5 Projects Using GPUs for a Better Planet

by Isha Salian

Earth Day is a good day for AI.

And the benefits are felt all year, all around the world, as deep learning and NVIDIA GPUs aid our understanding of ecosystems and climate patterns, preserving plants and animals, and managing waste.

Here are five ways companies, researchers and scientists are using GPUs for a better planet:

Into the Woods AI Goes

Whether in a rainforest or urban green spaces, life on Earth relies heavily on trees. But manually monitoring forested areas to track potential risks to plant health is time consuming and costly.

Portugal-based startup 20tree.ai is using AI to monitor forests from satellite imagery in a fraction of the time currently required. It uses NVIDIA GPUs inhouse and in the cloud to process some 100TB of new satellite data daily, helping clients analyze tree species, growth and productivity.

A Cloudy Picture of Climate Change

cloudThe Earth is warming, but at what rate? Climate models vary in their projections of global temperature rise in the coming years, from 1.5 degrees to more than three degrees by 2100. This variation is largely due to the difficulty of representing clouds in global climate models.

Neural networks can be used to address this cloud resolution challenge, researchers from Columbia University, UC Irvine and the University of Munich found. Developed using an assortment of NVIDIA GPUs, their deep learning model improved performance and provided better predictions for precipitation extremes than the original climate model. This detailed view can improve scientists’ ability to predict regional climate impact.

One Person’s Trash Is an AI’s Treasure

Trying to correctly sort the remains of a lunch into compost, recycling and landfill is a hard enough task for the average person. But if different types of waste are collected together and sent to recycling centers, the trash often can’t be sorted and it all ends up in a landfill. Only 29 percent of the municipal waste generated in Europe in 2017 was recycled.Bin-e smart trash bin

Smart recycling startup Bin-e hopes to raise the recycling rate with deep learning. Using the NVIDIA Jetson TX1, the startup has created a smart recycling bin that automatically recognizes, sorts and compresses waste. Its AI, trained on NVIDIA TITAN Xp GPUs, takes an image of each piece of trash and determines whether it’s paper, aluminum, plastic or e-waste before depositing it into the correct bin.

Sequencing on Land and at Sea

DNA sequencing isn’t just for the human genome. Nanopore sequencing, a technique for DNA sequencing, can be used to analyze the genomes of plants and microorganisms. UK.startup Oxford Nanopore Technologies is using recurrent neural networks to help scientists detect pathogens in cassava plant genomes.

It’s also analyzed the DNA of microbial sea life off the coast of Alaska, giving researchers a better understanding of ocean biodiversity and the effects of climate change on marine microorganisms.

Oxford Nanopore’s MinIT hand-held AI supercomputer is powered by NVIDIA AGX, enabling researchers to run sequence analysis in the field.

Whale, AI’ll Say

Due to centuries of whaling by humans, just 500 North Atlantic right whales still exist.

A right whale mother and her calf.
A right whale mother and her calf.

Those left have been forced by climate change to adopt a new migration path — exposing them to a new threat: commercial shipping vessels that can accidentally strike whales as they pass through shipping lanes.

Autonomous drone company Planck Aerosystems is working with Transport Canada, the national transportation department, to identify whales from aerial drone imagery with AI and NVIDIA GPUs. The tool can help biologists narrow down thousands of images to identify the few containing whales, so ships can slow down and avoid the endangered creatures.

Learn more about how GPU technology is driving applications with social impact, including environmental projects.