A partnership between Wessex Water and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in England has led to an autonomous robot that runs off the very wastewater it helps to clean. The EcoBot III, which contains microbial fuel cells, is powered by human waste. Because it takes in biomass, uses it to produce electricity and then gets rid of the waste, the robot, in a sense, is able to poop.
If you're so inclined, you can see a video of the robot's digestion below.
But beyond all the poop talk, the real value in this type of robot is the energy savings it brings to a wastewater treatment plant.
"Currently our treatment processes are energy intensive, but if there was a way of replicating the EcoBot III on a larger scale, some processes could be powered on the sewage they are treating," said Dr. Julian Dennis, Wessex Water's director of innovation and research. "It would eliminate the need for electricity and would mean that in the future, sewage treatment works could become self-sufficient - driving down operational costs and significantly reducing our carbon footprint."
The robot is only about 6kg and looks like a three-tiered cake. It contains layers of microbial fuel cells, catchment trays and a hat that catches flies attached to its artificial stomach. The team used low power electric circuitry so that waste matter could fully power the robot.
The robot is not destined only for wastewater treatment plants though. The researchers say they came up with the idea based on a need to create technology for remote areas that could run off organic matter. The wastewater treatment partnership gave the researchers a platform for testing and improving the technology.