Dr Jonathan Rossiter, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol's Department of Engineering and Mathematics, has come up with a clever idea -- and a £200,000 two-year research grant to try the idea out. His notion is to create robots that return to the earth when their mission is complete.
The University of Bristol writes, "Conventional robots are predominantly made of rigid resilient materials, many of which are toxic, non-biodegradable and have a negative impact on the natural ecology. Any robot deployed in the environment must therefore be continually tracked and, once it has reached the end of its useable life, must be recovered, dismantled, and made safe. This adds enormous complexity to the running of robotic projects and there is the ever-present risk that the robot will be irrecoverable with consequent damage to the eco-system. Additionally these characteristics severely limit the number of robots that can be employed since each must be tracked and recovered."
The solution? Make them decompose instead. Is it possible to have an autonomous robot that can biodegrade? We certainly hope so considering the many ideas we've seen for deploying robots to collect data all over the place only to have them exist as scattered e-waste when they're defunct.
“Once a biodegradable robot has reached the end of its mission, for example having performed some environmental cleanup activity following an oil spill, it will decompose into harmless material,” Rossiter states.
If this is possible, there would be much more sense to deploying some of the concept designs we've seen for robots cleaning up oil spills or plastic junk in the oceans, collecting data on air pollution levels or other tasks during which many are likely to be lost. We're wishing Rossiter success on making a biodegradable bot!