Nemo Demonstrates How 3D Printing and Drones Can Reverse Environmental Damage to Coral Reefs

Nemo is a Student Notable in the Transportation and Design for Social Impact categories of the 2020 Core77 Design Awards competition.

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An issue that isn’t addressed nearly as much as it should be is the need to restore coral reef systems suffering due to climate change. Today, coral reefs cover 0.1% of the ocean floor, but in fact support 25% of all marine wildlife. The effect humans have on this precious ecosystem has taken its toll, and estimations suggest 90% of coral reefs will vanish by 2050.

Mario Kapsalis and Elias Thaddäus Pfuner of Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden conducted research in 2019 to learn more about what could be done, ultimately discovering clear challenges they could tackle using design. The incorporation of 3D printing into coral restoration is a huge technological advance, but problems still lie due to the combination of low funding and high levels of labor required to put these systems in place. The two designers began to wonder, how can the journey towards a more sustainable, efficient and simple coral restoration process be designed using technology and automation?

The pair came up with Nemo, a four stage service helping municipalities and coral restoration agencies restore coral reefs in an efficient, sustainable way, with large-scale capacity. Nemo consists of a digital platform that helps scientists research and monitor coral reefs more accurately and efficiently. The second part is a specialized transport box, which supports corals during their relocation from the nursery to the outplant site. The last piece is a collaborative drone fulfilling two different purposes: one function is to help scientists monitor coral reefs through 3D scanning and mapping, which is then fed into a global coral reef database, accessible for scientists and citizens around the world.

To complement their research and ensure the design was a truly asset to workers restoring coral reefs, Kapsalis and Pnufer gather insights va interviews with a number of coral reef restoration specialists. In their research, they discovered the main issues creating a barrier to efficiency in this space were the labor intensive nature of restoration, the complication of setting up even one coral reef, the difficulty of transporting coral to outplant sites, and the small scale in which restoration is being done.

The team’s combination of technology reducing human labor while also gathering consistent data insights shows promise for how automation could greatly improve this process. According to the designers behind Nemo, the concept for their system could allow restoration specialists to plant up to 100 corals per day, with only 2-3 people necessary as opposed to the typical team of 10-15 needed for one coral outplant job.

While Nemo remains a concept, it certainly demonstrates how scientists can use technological advances like 3D printing, drones, and data analysis to make strides in climate change reversal previously thought to be impossible.

Source: core77

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