Hybrid Robot's Microbial Fuel Cell Transforms Polluted Water Into Vegetation

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Photo: Gilberto Esparza

What if an army of mobile robots could transform polluted water into plant life? Tracing a fine line between robot and plant, art project and self-sustaining mini-ecosystem machine, Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza's hybrid creation "Nomadic Plants" (Plantas Nomadas) is a quirky contraption that actively seeks polluted water to feed the vegetation and microorganisms living symbiotically inside its body.

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Microbial fuel cell technology
Using a microbial fuel cell, the robot is designed to run on the bacteria found in polluted water, which are broken down and transformed in to energy that feeds the brain circuits of the robot. This is in turn allows the vegetation carried by the robot to grow. Says Esparza: "When these microorganisms need nourishment the machine seeks out dirty water, which is then decomposed to create energy; any surplus is used to emit a noise and sustain plants carried on its back. The machine and plants becomes co-dependent."

Like his previous works, Esparza creates autonomous robots that survive in marginal spaces, 'parasitically' feeding off any excess energy supply that they can find.

Inspired by publications on microbial fuel cells that he found online and confronted with the issue of river pollution in a local community, Esparza designed "Nomadic Plants" as a way to tackle the problem, and at the same time, to comment on the ambiguous role that the human species plays in either balancing or disrupting ecosystems.

The robot itself is envisioned as an integrative, site-specific solution. Esparza explains: "The microorganisms that live inside the robots are identical to the ones you can find in the river. I prefer to use the plants that used to be native to the river before it became so polluted."

From the artist's press release:

The fact that a new species, the by-product of those alienating processes, appears -merely by coexisting- in those areas of ecological disaster represents a manifestation pointing to the serious social and environmental impacts on communities that once depended on rivers, now the source of their ailments. At this point, it is important to highlight the ambiguous potential of the transforming power of the human species, due to its ability to destroy but also to restore. For that reason, what is required is a new way of thinking, which would position us as antibodies on the planet, and a proper understanding of the importance of living in symbiosis with our planet and with all species.

Plantas Nomadas will be exhibited at Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre, Gijón, Spain until June, 7, 2010.

A video on Esparza's works can be seen here (Spanish).

Plantas Nomadas via We Make Money Not Art

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