Expo 2020: Einstein's ‘digital twin’ to answer visitors' questions at Swiss Pavilion

Experts from ETH Zurich will also talk about harvesting water from the atmosphere and how to grow microalgae as a meat alternative

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A 'digital Einstein' will be introduced to thousands of visitors at Expo 2020's Swiss Pavilion.

Made by experts at ETH Zurich, the city's university of science and technology, the great scientist's 'twin' will use the power of AI to talk to the public.

In 1921, Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize for his contributions to theoretical physics.

A century on, his work will be commemorated with the interactive animation at the Swiss Pavilion to mark his time at ETH Zurich.

“Digital humans like Einstein who can hear, see and interact with the person in front of them are driven by complex algorithmic systems," said Christian Schuller. He is one of three founders of Animatico, a Swiss tech start-up that has developed the ‘digital twin’ at the university ready for its Expo debut next month.

Einstein’s appearance is modelled on how he looked during his formative years in Zurich. The technology uses natural language processing and digital rendering of expressions and body language to bring the young Einstein to life.

The animated twin may not offer answers to the meaning of life, but it will respond to thousands of potential questions from visitors at the gateway to the Swiss Pavilion.

Food, farming and clean energy

Sustainable food production, the future of farming and clean affordable energy for all are other challenges to be addressed by Swiss scientists and academics from Einstein’s alma mater.

The university founded 34 new start-up companies last year, most based on research and innovation developed at ETH Zurich.

Artificial intelligence and sustainability are key themes for graduates, with some projects due to be showcased in Dubai South when Expo 2020 kicks off on October 1.

One of these is the work of Zurich’s Crowther Lab, whose scientists have teamed up with Google Earth to better understand climate change over time.

Satellite imagery identifies areas harmed by climate change with new software predicting carbon deposits that could affect complex ecosystems and weather patterns.

Plants and soil organisms are responsible for driving bio-geochemical processes that regulate soil fertility, ecosystem productivity and the climate.

Scientists believe small increases of soil organic carbon over very large areas in agricultural and pastoral lands can significantly reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Dr Alexander Mathys cultivating microalgae to grow protein meat alternatives at Zurich University. Photo: ETH Zurich

"To answer questions about the carbon cycle, we have to understand patterns of why and where plant vegetation exists," said Dr Daniel Maynard, who worked on the project.

"From that local knowledge, we can make detailed local predictions about specific ecosystems to inform scientific decisions about restoration."

Research conducted in the Wasit Nature Reserve in Sharjah, a diverse ecosystem with coastal sands dunes, salt flats, ponds and lakes, revealed the amount of organic carbon in the soil and how much could exist if it was restored.

The work will be discussed in greater detail during Swiss Pavilion workshops throughout Expo 2020.

Other environmental projects at ETH Zurich include efforts to grow microalgae as a meat alternative, and harvest water from the atmosphere.

The university’s energy science centre has developed its own innovative water extraction solution to address the depleting level of drinking water around the world.

Researcher Iwan Hächler developed a condenser that is claimed to be the first zero-energy way to harvest water from the atmosphere during a 24-hour daily cycle.

“Just 0.5 per cent of the water on Earth is ready for human consumption,” said Mr Hächler.

“But almost 40 per cent of the world’s population is vulnerable to water shortages, and we know desalination is expensive and requires a lot of energy.

“This system is energy neutral and produces safe drinking water.”

A thin layer of silver or silica glass reflects sunlight inside a metallic cone that acts as a thermal radiation shield.

Zurich University researcher Iwan Hächler developed a condenser that claims to be the first zero-energy solution for harvesting water from the atmosphere during a 24-hour daily cycle. Science projects from the university will be on show at the Swiss Pavilion during Expo 2020 in Dubai. Photo: Nicholas Webster / The National

It enhances the cooling effect of atmospheric water droplets, which are then harvested into a collection chamber.

Humidity greater than 65 per cent is the perfect environment to extract water from the atmosphere using the device, with a yield of 1.4 litres per square metre every day.

Coastal areas of the UAE average between 50 and 60 per cent humidity throughout the year, but that can reach 90 per cent during summer.

The extraction unit costs less than $20 and differs from other similar units that rely on external energy sources.

Devices could be adapted to provide a sustainable solution to water production in arid regions, Mr Hächler said.

“There is three times more water in the atmosphere than is consumed globally, so it is a resource we can use,” said Mr Hächler.

“The challenge is how to extract it. This cannot produce water for an entire city, but it can supplement existing water supplies.”

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Updated: September 07, 2021, 11:26 AM