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Tech Wednesday, February 8th 2012 at 2:13 pm

Eco-Robot Eats Its Own Fuel, Poops Its Own Waste

Surely you’ve had annoying experiences with battery operated devices. You have to find the right batteries, put them in, and eventually replace them. Sure, it beats wires, but it’s still not optimal. So what about robots that could go around and find their own “batteries” and generate power by eating things like leaves and dirt, and even maybe urine and feces? That’s what the Ecobot-III –product of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory– can do, and it even has a fancy new feature it’s predecessors didn’t have; the Ecobot-III can poop.

The first two prototypes, the Ecobot-I and II were capable of eating their own fuel by two different means. Ecobot-I had an E. Coli engine that ran on refined sugar and Ecobot-II had sludge microbe engine that ran on stuff like dead flies and prawn shells. The problem with these two models, however, was that they could eat food but not eject waste. Basically they just kept cramming in new batteries until there was no room, or in a more biological and disgusting metaphor, until they were full of crap, literally.

The Ecobot-III, however, has managed to succeed in the laboratory by being able to collect its own food and water and poop in a litter tray. As such, it has potential for being a long-lived self-sustaining robot, unlike its disposable predecessors. Naturally this could be useful technology. The bot is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation –which has previous experience funding feces-related projects– and NASA, which is very keen on a robot that could function on human feces, specifically those of an astronaut.

Granted, this is no Fallout-style human-brain-as-a-CPU technology, but clearly adding some biological aspects to robots could serve to make them more efficient and more self-sufficient. Maybe someday we’ll have a whole bunch of robots running around, cleaning up our waste not because we’ve enslaved them to do it, but because they need to eat the stuff. Hopefully we’ll have programmed them to comment on its impeccable quality while they’re at it as well, you know, for the lulz.

(Scientific American via Environmental News Information, Image credit Bristol Robotics Laboratory, UK)

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