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智能救天災 Smart Solutions for Natural Disasters

发布日期:2022-05-25 17:25
智能救天災──岑棓琛造出全球最精準防火機械人
人類對機械人的戒心一直是銀幕上的賣座題材。《未來戰士》的天網(SkyNet)因辨別人類對地球有害,而全面消滅人類;《廿二世紀殺人網絡》人類肉體淪為電池,為機械提供能源。而岑棓琛屬於樂觀派,相信機械人令世界更美好。「《鐵甲奇俠》幫人一飛沖天的系統、《星球大戰》工具多多的R2-D2,它們才是真實可信的機械人形象!」
機械人製造者岑棓琛在2009年創辦視野機械人有限公司,主營森林火險監控機械人,外形酷似《太空奇兵》的WALL-E, 一大一小的眼睛能準確偵測五公里半徑範圍內,小至兩米乘一米的火源,並在不足一秒間發出訊號通報。
「曾經在加拿大的山林測試,機械人偵察到十三公里外的山火,打破世界紀錄。當時霧氣重重,肉眼根本連五百米範圍內都看不清,而機械人靠紅外線熱成像看穿所有阻隔,這點衛星也做不到。我敢說我的機械人準確度世界第一。」
傳統森林防火依賴山火瞭望台上的人或閉路電視監控,誤報率高,通報慢。更嚴重的問題是,看山護林是個夕陽行業,幾乎沒有年輕人願意入行。「駐守深山很艱苦,收不到電視,更遑論上網看臉書。由於電力不足,用不上熱水爐,冬天洗澡只能燒水倒在毛巾上擦身。老一輩退休後,真的還有人願意接班嗎?」
機械人解決了效率與人手問題,卻難免惹來「搶飯碗」的爭議。岑棓琛堅持,機械人取代的只是人類不願幹的無聊工種,例如監察山火;或是太危險不應由人幹的工作,例如深入險地救災:「冒着一個人的生命拯救其他人的生命是不合理的。天津大爆炸中消防員傷亡慘重,但如果最早進入危險品倉庫的是救災機械人,損失的頂多就幾百萬,而不是無價的人命。」
反人性工作應由機械代勞,而需要人性的工作則只有人才能勝任。「最不該被機械人取代的工種,是護士。最近許多公司推出照顧老人的智能系統,我不太認同。人之所以為人,是因為有尊嚴,渴望與他人互動,希望有人用心照顧自己,而不是委託機械人完成某項任務便了事。機械人是不會有愛的。」
岑棓琛憑着防火機械人,在「IBM SmartCamp全球總決賽」中擊敗世界各地頂尖參賽者,獲選為全球年度創業家。他覷準,有益世界的發明也必定有利可圖。「機械人防止山火,保護林地,減低全球碳排放,這的確是很偉大的貢獻;但憑甚麼客戶肯花幾十萬購買?打動他們的一定是商業誘因──種植林每燒一次,則損失幾百萬。如果買了機械人,火災風險減低,公司省下的保險費已抵消機械人的價錢。一年下來,樹的產出多了,錢賺多了,與此同時,大家呼吸的空氣更清新了。
「我希望將公益與利益同時實現,不喜歡只為了賺錢而創業──如果為了賺錢,我肯定不會做機械人生意,而去寫應用程式,或者玩金融科技,電腦炒股票。
「只有關心身邊發生的事,別國發生的事,地球另一端發生的事,所造發明才能切合世界需要。我要求自己和公司其他工程師相信,有一天我們終能拯救世界。」


Smart Solutions for Natural Disasters: Rex Sham develops the world’s most advanced fire detection robot

Humans’ wariness of robots has long been the subject matter of popular movies. In The Terminator, SkyNet sets out to eliminate humanity, which it sees as a threat to planet Earth. And in The Matrix, humans are used as batteries to provide a power source for robots. On this issue, Rex Sham remains an optimist, believing that robots can make the world a better place. ‘Consider the high-tech suit of armour in Iron Man that helps propel the hero through the air at great speed. Or the multi-functional R2-D2 in Star Wars. It is these robotic images that are more realistic and trustworthy.’  
A creator of robots, Rex founded Insight Robotics Ltd in 2009, which specializes in robotic systems that monitor and detect forest wildfires. Looking like WALL-E from the movie of the same title, the robot he developed can accurately detect a small fire of 2 metres x 1 metre in size within a 5-km radius, and send out alerts in less than a second.
‘Pilot tests carried out in a Canadian forest have shown that our robot can spot a wildfire 13 km away, which turned out to be a world record. At that time, there was a heavy mist and the human eye couldn’t see clearly within a 500-metre radius. But our robot was equipped with thermal imaging sensors and could spot a fire despite all barriers in the surroundings. This is something even a satellite couldn’t accomplish. So I dare claim that my robot is the world’s number one in detection accuracy.’    
Traditionally, forest fire watch has been performed by people stationed at watchtowers or through closed-circuit television surveillance. However, such methods tend to lead to erroneous reporting or alert delays. To compound the problem, forest fire watch is a sunset industry that young people are reluctant to join. ‘Being stationed deep in the mountains is an experience fraught with hardship. No television signals could be received, let alone internet access to Facebook. Given the inadequate power supply, there would be no electric water heaters and in winter, instead of taking a shower, you could only clean your body with a towel doused with boiled water. When the older-generation staff are all retired, will there be any newcomers willing to succeed them?’
Although robots can resolve the problems of efficiency and manpower shortage, there are inevitable concerns of them displacing people from their livelihoods. Rex insisted that robots will only take over jobs that people are unwilling to do like forest fire watch or work that is too hazardous for humans to undertake, such as disaster relief in dangerous areas. ‘It makes no sense for a person to risk his own life to save others. The Tianjin explosion saw heavy losses of lives and casualties among the firefighters. If we had sent robots into the affected warehouse to spearhead the rescue work, the losses incurred would be a few million dollars maximum, rather than precious human lives.’ 
Robots should be deployed for work that is unsuitable for humans but jobs requiring a human touch should be done by people only, he opined. ‘Nurses are least suitable to be superseded by robots. Recently, many enterprises have rolled out smart systems for elderly care, a practice I do not agree with. The reason why humans are humans is that we all have a sense of dignity, crave for interaction with others and hope that someone will take care of us with heartfelt commitment, instead of by robots sent in to accomplish a mission. Robots are devoid of love.’
At the IBM SmartCamp Global Finals, Rex beat top contestants from around the world to be named winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year award, based on the fire detection robot he created. According to him, inventions that benefit the world will also be profitable ones. ‘Robots that prevent forest fires, safeguard forested land and reduce global carbon emissions are, without doubt, a great contribution. But why do clients spend tens of thousands of dollars on their purchase? Certainly, what motivates them is the business factor—every time the forested land they have cultivated is ravaged by fire, they will lose millions of dollars. But with the robots they purchased, the risks of fire would be significantly reduced, enabling these enterprises to save on insurance that would offset the cost of acquiring the robots. Over the ensuing year, more trees will be produced, bigger profits will be generated and the air everybody breathes will become fresher.    
‘I hope to achieve public good and profit at the same time. If I were only interested in the money, I would not have entered into the robots business for sure, but would be writing software programmes for stock speculation.
‘So long as we remain concerned with the happenings around us, in other countries and the other side of the world, our inventions will be relevant to what the world needs. I expect myself and the other engineers of my company to believe that we can save the world ultimately.’
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