In a recent Amazon event, actor Robert Downey Jr. showed us why he is the Iron Man by announcing a new foundation that plans to use robotics and nanotechnology to clean up the planet. This announcement was made during Amazon’s Re: Mars conference in Las Vegas. The foundation, christened The Footprint Coalition, is scheduled to officially launch by the end of April 2020 [1].

According to Downey, “Between robotics and nanotechnology, we could clean up the planet significantly, if not totally, in 10 years.” He claimed that he had been brief on the possibilities by a group of experts, adding “God I love experts. They’re like Wikipedia with character defects.” It seems that he is more like his Marvel character Tony Stark who is obsessed with using technology to save the world than we thought.

Inspiring talk

The announcement was made at the end of a half hour long talk that touched on the progress of artificial intelligence, Downey’s own career, his Tony Stark character and the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The talk also featured cameos from fellow actor Matt Damon, who joined via video call as well as Amazon’s AI assistant Alexa.

Downey acknowledged that his lifestyle so far had been less than environmentally-friendly: “I’m a one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus, but I have this quiet sense of crisis [about the situation].”[2]. However, the actor didn’t share any details about the foundation or how it plans to achieve its goals but said that this was the most significant thing he had ever attempted.

Little is known about The Footprint Coalition. A website for the foundation went live after he made the announcement but it currently only features this brief note:

“Thanks for your interest in the Footprint Coalition, and for caring about Mother Earth. Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be the first to know about our next steps on this environmental journey,” and a newsletter sign-up form.

Asides from his role in Iron Man, Downey has also been active in the promotion of AI and other advanced technologies including hosting a documentary series on AI for YouTube Red. The series which is slated to debut in 2019, will explore recent advances in AI and their impact in transforming the way we live and work both now and in the future [3].

Could it really work?

Researchers are currently trying to find innovative ways to use nanotechnology to manipulate matter and potentially reverse some of the effects of pollution and climate change. It is all theoretical for now but many experts believe that our ability to influence matter at the atomic and molecular level could be the key to cleaning up the world.

According to Arun Chattopadhyay, a chemist at the Center for Nanotechnology, “Nanomaterials can convert carbon dioxide into useful products like alcohol, the materials could be simple chemical catalysts or photochemical in nature that works in the presence of sunlight.”[2]. However, the main problem with this process is the cost involved and we may not be able to tap into the power of nanotechnology until it becomes profitable to do so.


  1. Robert Downey Jr. Announces Footprint Coalition to Clean Up the World With Advanced Tech“, Variety. June, 2019.
  2. Robert Downey Jr. plans to ‘clean up the planet’ with A.I.“, Big Think. June, 2019.
  3. Robert Downey Jr. launches climate change coalition to clean up Earth within 10 years“, ABC News. June, 2019.
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