Forget those Terminator movies -- new research into self-sustaining machines hints at a future where the scariest thing about robots may actually be their breath. In an attempt to created a robot that can power itself indefinitely, researchers from the Bristol Robotics Lab have developed the Ecobot-III, equipped with a synthetic gut that processes sewage to power its fuel cells. In other words, pee may be the perfect energy drink for robots of the future.This isn't the first time waste powered microbial fuel cells (MFC) have been used to keep machines running, but the Ecobot-III is unique in its autonomy. While other robots have to be force-fed their 'meals', the Ecobot-III is designed to consume sewage all on its own and deposit its excrement accordingly. Yes, it's housebroken.
A report from Popular Science explains how the robot self-sustains:
The method is pretty simple: the 'bot navigates itself to a dispenser filled with the sewage mixture and takes in what it needs. The mixture is distributed into 48 bacteria-filled MFCs where it is metabolized into hydrogen atoms that in turn migrate to an electrode where, through the magic of fuel cells, a current is generated. Once every 24 hours -- Ecobot III is admirably regular -- the robot purges its synthetic gut into a special waste chamber.
The waste-loving Ecobot-III is the product of three years of development -- and it's showing some signs of success. On one attempt to operate without researcher assistance, the robot managed to survive for seven days all on its own. Still, there are some bugs that need to be worked out to make 'digest' more efficiently.
Lead researcher Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos thinks that meals more rich in urine may be key in giving the Ecobot-III an energy boost. "Urine is chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and has compounds such as urea, chloride, potassium and bilirubin, which make it very good for the microbial fuel cells," he told UPI.
It may still be a number of years before urine-guzzling robots are living amongst us, but one thing's for certain: cyborg buffets will have to be clearly marked.