Month: April 2020

Why companies should invest in environmental technology

Researchers warn that COVID-19 pandemic fears will drive big investors away from environmental technology development at a time when we have the capacity to “flatten the curve” on key indicators like carbon emissions. 

Typically, sustainable energy investment is associated with higher risk and lower short-term returns. With topsy-turvy global markets and rock bottom oil prices dominating the conversation, expanding green energy technology seems a little too risky for many investors.

However, investing in environmental technology remains a long term winner — and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Sustainably using our resources through technology not only helps us create a more liveable future, but it may prove to be more cost-effective long-term. Smart investors should look ahead and keep their eye on the prize despite tumultuous conditions. 

Why environmental technology matters

While COVID-19 currently dominates the airwaves, only a few short weeks ago the biggest threats to human civilization — from the Australian wildfires this winter to more insidious effects of drought at the root of recent geopolitical shifts — were all the result of climate change. Some researchers argue that the novel coronavirus behind the outbreak is, too. Those threats aren’t going anywhere, even if they are generating very little attention right now. 

While the current pandemic will cripple global commerce for weeks or months, it will eventually end. Forward thinking leaders are asking: what will the world we return to look like? Will we make the kind of investments into nature that buy us protections from severe storms — or will we continue bounding from catastrophe to catastrophe making the same mistakes? 

Like it or not, much of the world is at a halt. In this short window, the planet is already showing signs of healing, as illustrated by the return of clean air over China’s industrial heartland. Could this moment be a turning point, the time to push green innovation while less sustainable technology’s momentum is stalled?

How to invest in environmental technology

For individual investors, there are huge potential earnings in the green tech sector. Perhaps that’s why the world’s biggest potential investor, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, plugged $10 billion of his personal wealth into an Earth Fund to kickstart the industry.

Some popular approaches to investing in environmental technology include:

  • Green funds — numerous equity and bond mutual funds and ETFs are assembled exclusively using environmentally-friendly stocks. 
  • Securities investment — see a great opportunity or want to invest directly in companies in one sector or another? Buy stocks for publicly-traded green tech firms.
  • Startup funding — provide seed or series A funding to startups that are leading the charge. 

For other leaders, putting your company at the forefront of green tech investment can reduce your overhead costs, cut carbon, and serve as a powerful marketing tool. Start by partnering with organizations to improve efficiency or bringing in third-party researchers to test new applications of environmental tech in your field. 

Where to invest

While renewable energy gets a lot of press, there’s a lot happening behind the scenes in environmental technology.

  • Plant-based biodegradable plastics are growing in popularity in the restaurant and retail sector. The market for these products is expected to double by 2023
  • Researchers are using smart sensors and UAV technology to analyze environmental data, track wildlife, and prevent poaching.
  • Green chemistry and nanotechnology firms are exploring ways to sustainably produce products using algae, fungi, and more. 
  • Architects are experimenting with methods for going beyond carbon neutrality and creating buildings with a net negative climate impact. 

Good for the planet, good for your bottom line

Environmental tech is a rapidly growing market with strong support in public opinion. The technology is starting to make fiscal sense for small-to-midsize companies as well. Prior to COVID, a lot of buzz circulated about how solar and wind technologies were becoming too cheap for subsidies (and, in some cases, too cheap to even meter).

Small measures like replacing manned airborne surveying, data collection, or surveillance with UAV-mounted software can reduce your company’s overhead considerably while cutting its carbon footprint.

As more young, tech-savvy conservationists arrive on the scene, old-guard environmentalists are seeing the vital role that technology investment plays in efforts to protect wildlife, reduce carbon input, and save the planet. With the help of investors across the economy, we can improve business outcomes while providing a cleaner, safer world for our kids.

Human-Machine Teaming Is Key to Organizational Resilience in Crises

With unemployment skyrocketing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fear of technology and automation is once again coming to the surface. 

As organizations in critical sectors like healthcare, emergency services, energy, communications, and manufacturing struggle to maintain operations while protecting their workforce, emerging technologies appear to provide possible solutions. But conversations about their use are often tinged with fear about their effects on the human workforce.

At Mapware, we’re in the business of helping organizations improve resilience in emergencies. We’ve responded to 4 out of the last 5 hurricanes that made landfall using drones and AI-powered photogrammetry to help workers restore power and communications. We’ve also worked on technology that can make big data more useful to first responders, helping them fight fires and respond to other disasters. 

We know first-hand that technology like robotics, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things can make organizations more resilient…but we also know that the “man vs. machine” narrative is deeply flawed. 

Now, as we face global uncertainty, we must overcome our biases and understand that working with machines, not against them, is the path to sustainability. 

We call the intersection of automation and human labor human-machine teaming, and many organizations already relying on it to get through crisis situations.

What is human-machine teaming?

Human-machine teaming refers to the ways humans and complex technologies work together to support each other and achieve positive outcomes. 

Take AI as an example. Artificial intelligence tools can drive data analysis and decision making on a level no humans could approach. However, AI models must be trained and continually checked for accuracy, and their conclusions must be interpreted for different audiences. Those tasks are best performed by human collaborators.

Human-machine teaming and organizational resilience

How does an organization survive a disaster? Whether it’s a hurricane, fire, or global pandemic, the answer increasingly lies with technology, and the way people and machines can work together to rapidly solve problems. 

Here’s are just a few ways organizations are using human-machine teaming to increase resilience during crises:

Assessing infrastructure damage

In our field, we’re working on using AI-powered object recognition to analyze visual data captured by drones. If you can teach a machine to recognize objects in a photograph, you can identify all sorts of damaged infrastructure elements — like downed utility poles, corroded oil pipelines, and gas leaks — and better manage the response of ground teams.

When properly trained, AI is actually faster and more accurate at recognizing objects than humans. And with special sensors, drone cameras can spot things that are invisible to the naked eye, like corrosion under insulation. 

Access to these insights makes the work of maintenance teams safer, easier, and more effective.

Predicting maintenance issues

In the manufacturing sector, AI and the internet of things are powering predictive maintenance — the ability to predict when equipment is going to fail and replace parts before they slow or halt production. 

This value of these insights are multiplied during crises, when the availability of parts and labor are uncertain and lives are depending on continuous output.

Among other things, predictive maintenance can increase worker safety. Equipment failure in manufacturing can lead to injuries, and safer machinery makes for safer people.

Creating digital twins

Digital twins — accurate, up-to-date computer models of real-world environments — contribute to organizational resilience in many sectors.

Using a combination of sensor types, visualization software, and AI algorithms, digital twins can be used to create models of construction sites, power plants, cell towers, warehouses…even entire cities. 

Digital twins can be used to model flood patterns and other extreme weather events, helping governments prepare and allocate emergency resources. These models can also be used to improve the resilience of power grids and prevent blackouts by providing real-time awareness of complex systems.


As we face this crisis together, we hope there are some lessons learned about the value of human-machine teaming. 

Leveraged properly, innovative technologies can make our work safer, our lives healthier, and our systems more resilient.

Drone-Enabled Remote Sensing and Environmental Monitoring

From hand-drawn paper charts to high-resolution aerial photography, we’ve been helping organizations and government agencies track environmental changes and monitor ecosystems for a long time.

The systems that capture and process environmental monitoring data continue to evolve, providing those who can enact positive change with more accurate, actionable insights.

Using drone technology, we can map and survey a variety of environmental factors — land erosion, wildfire risk, invasive species growth, endangered species populations, and more. Organizations can then use the data to make better, more informed decisions that protect humans and nature alike.

In other words, drone technology creates digital environments to help us better understand natural environments.

Improved precision

Combining aerial images with geolocation data like light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and infrared imaging creates more detailed, more accurate representations of the environment. This is key for environmental monitoring, because more accurate data translates to better-informed decisions.

The “Epic Duck Challenge” found that drone-derived data are between 43% and 96% more accurate than human-collected ground counts, so drone technology is essential for gathering accurate, actionable environmental information.

For example, LIDAR technology (which uses laser pulses to collect measurements for 3D models and maps of objects and terrain) can help with coastal erosion monitoring. Drones are used to collect data from very large areas of coastline, allowing scientists to produce high-resolution maps using photogrammetric image processing software.

In a similar vein, Mapware uses drone technology to assist the U.S. Air Force with endangered species conservation and ecosystem health assessment. One of the overall goals of the project is to protect the endangered golden-cheeked warbler by monitoring its natural habitat.

Mapware uses drone technology like digital elevation models, LIDAR, and infrared imaging to create detailed data sets that can then be consulted to help make strategic decisions regarding habitat protection.

Safety and accessibility

Drone technology also allows us to gather environmental information without putting humans (or the environment itself) in harm’s way. 

In fragile ecosystems, human disturbance can do unintentional damage. For example, humans may inadvertently disrupt the behavior of endangered species, or introduce pathogens into the environment that can affect wildlife via reverse zoonosis. Drones help researchers avoid doing this kind of harm by putting distance between the humans and the environment they’re examining.

Additionally, without drones, humans often have to navigate dangerous terrain to gather data. Some areas are virtually impossible to reach on foot, and drones offer an alternative way to study them without putting researchers in danger. 

The stakes are even higher when trekking through challenging terrain while responding to disasters like oil spills, wildfires, and floods, or tracking heavily armed poachers. In these cases especially, it’s far safer to gather data remotely.

Looking to the future

While the use cases for drone-enabled remote sensing and environmental monitoring are promising, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

For now, this type of monitoring should be completed with careful planning and oversight by the proper agencies (like the EPA and the U.S. Air Force), not by everyday consumers or activists. 

Social implications of drone use, including concerns about privacy, safety, and the psychological well being of both humans and animals, require attention and further investigation as this technology continues to evolve.