Self-sustaining robot has an artificial gut (w/ Video)

Jul 20, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Self-sustaining robot has an artificial gut (w/ Video)
This is the middle section of the robot which consists of the sludge distribution mechanism (white solid helical rings), and the Microbial Fuel Cells (24 in total) which are shown just below the distribution mechanism. Underneath the MFCs there is an overflow collection tray which feeds back into the ingestion vessel above. Image credit: Bristol Robotics Laboratory

(PhysOrg.com) -- UK researchers have developed an autonomous robot with an artificial gut that enables it to fuel itself by eating and excreting. The robot is the first bot powered by biomass to be demonstrated operating without assistance for several days. Being self-sustaining would enable robots of the future to function unaided for long periods.

The , the Ecobot III, was developed by researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and will be presented at the Artificial Life conference in Denmark in August. The robot eats meals of partially processed sewage, using the nutrients within the mash for fuel and excreting the remains. It also drinks water to maintain power generation.

The robot navigates towards a dispenser filled with the nutrient-rich mixture and "eats" what it needs. The meal is then processed in the robot's body by bacteria held in a stack of two tiers, each with 24 (MFCs).

Undigested matter passes via a gravity feed to a central trough from which it is pumped back into the feeder tanks to be reprocessed in order to extract as much of the available energy as possible. The waste is then purged every 24 hours by a peristaltic pump that works like the colon, using pressure waves to expel the waste from the tube into a litter tray.

The bacteria in each MFC metabolize the mixture, producing hydrogen atoms in the process. The hydrogen electrons are drawn to the fuel cell anode where an is generated. Meanwhile the ions enter the cathode chamber via a proton-exchange membrane and combine with oxygen in the water in the chamber to produce more water. The robot drinks water to replace losses through evaporation.

Director of Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Chris Melhuish, said MFCs had been tried before but an artificial gut was needed to solve the problem of previous models, which was that humans had to clean up the waste left by bacterial digestion. Melhuish said the robot was called Ecobot III, but admitted “diarrhea-bot would be more appropriate, as it’s not exactly knocking out rabbit pellets.”

Self-sustaining robot has an artificial gut (w/ Video)
This is a picture of the EcoBot II - a predecessor of the EcoBot III.

The robot has maintained itself unaided for up to seven days, but is so far extremely inefficient, using only 1% of the energy available within the food. It moves slowly and shows some intelligent behaviors such as moving toward light.

The inefficiency and slowness may make the robot less attractive than autonomous robots designed to extract energy from biomass by burning it rather than using MFCs — such as the "Energetically Autonomous Tactile Robot" being developed by the US military — but the Bristol team point out that MFCs can process a greater range of foodstuffs, including hard-to-burn matter such as waste water.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video: Ecobot II is a predecessor of Ecobot III.

The efficiencies should be improved in the future, which may make the robots ideal for domestic and other non-military uses. The robot could also potentially be used to clean waste water.

Explore further: Telerobotics puts robot power at your fingertips

More information: Ecobot III project page: www.brl.ac.uk/projects/ecobot/… bot%20III/index.html
via Newscientist

Related Stories

Care-O-bot 3: Always at your service

Jul 01, 2008

Who doesn’t long for household help at times? Service robots will soon be able to relieve us of heavy, dirty, monotonous or irksome tasks. Research scientists have now presented a new generation of household ...

Simple Robot Climbs Through Tubes (w/ Video)

May 12, 2010

Last week was the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held in Anchorage, Alaska. One of the most interesting robots was a simple -- and fast -- bot designed to climb easily through tubes.

iRobot Unveils Morphing Blob Robot (w/ Video)

Oct 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- iRobot's latest robot is unique on many levels. The doughy blob moves by inflating and deflating - a new technique its developers call "jamming." As the researchers explain in the video below, ...

Recommended for you

Scalping can raise ticket prices

6 hours ago

Scalping gets a bad rap. For years, artists and concert promoters have stigmatized ticket resale as a practice that unfairly hurts their own sales and forces fans to pay exorbitant prices for tickets to sold-out concerts. ...

User comments : 19

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Husky
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 20, 2010
i can see it now : The Locust-1 a swarm of military bots that feast on the crops of the enemies and on the flesh of the enemies themselves, leaving nothing but ruble and ponds of processed sludge in their path, however a small error in the software will turn them against their masters when they run out of food
gmurphy
5 / 5 (2) Jul 20, 2010
hopefully, they'll clean up their own damn poop, that's right, poop!
dferrantino
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
Time to start getting cybernetic implants so the robots might ignore me when they begin their feast...
gunslingor1
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
Hey, I have a perfect application for this thing... Automated Pooper Scooper!
zevkirsh
5 / 5 (1) Jul 20, 2010
when the engineers get frustrated with these robots they can blurt out "eat shit, robots" and feel satisfied with themselves.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Jul 20, 2010
I for one welcome our new robotic overlords.
CarolinaScotsman
3 / 5 (2) Jul 20, 2010
The plantation culture returns, with robots to do the "slave work" and then feed from their masters' septic tank.
Javinator
4 / 5 (1) Jul 20, 2010
"The robot has maintained itself unaided for up to seven days, but is so far extremely inefficient, using only 1% of the energy available within the food. It moves slowly and shows some intelligent behaviors such as moving toward light. "

I'm not really a biology guy... does anyone know what kind of efficiency humans/some other animals get from their food?
Gerben_Mulder
Jul 20, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
krundoloss
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
Well, the microbial fuel cell is the cool part, anyway. Hopefully we can have cars like in Back to the Future 2 with a "Mr. Fusion" that is powered by biomass. Its nice to see people actually trying to make something self sustainable, too. This would work great for electrical devices in places without access to electricity. Now if we could just get them to build themselves . . .
FullyAutoMagic
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
So, we have tons of bio debris accumulating around thousands of wind turbines. (Birds, insects and improperly trained technicians) How about we rig some of these fellahs up to consume the organic matter and service the wind towers utilizing the that energy?
Noumenon
4.9 / 5 (45) Jul 21, 2010
See, this is what the tree huggers give us, sh1tting robots.
HealingMindN
not rated yet Jul 21, 2010
They have to figure out a "large intestine" to help reabsorb that water. Maybe a semipermiable membrane of sorts that can squeeze out the water like an "accordion?" What about a liquid metal bot to help imitate peristaltic waves? Does it get "gas" too? Use whoopee cushion lips for a sphincter. That way, when we hear loud wind break, we know where the smell is originating.
FullyAutoMagic
not rated yet Jul 21, 2010
They have to figure out a "large intestine" to help reabsorb that water. Maybe a semipermiable membrane of sorts that can squeeze out the water like an "accordion?" What about a liquid metal bot to help imitate peristaltic waves? Does it get "gas" too? Use whoopee cushion lips for a sphincter. That way, when we hear loud wind break, we know where the smell is originating.


I've often wondered if a Roomba could look ashamed, and now I have resolution. Thank you!
H2Wins
not rated yet Jul 22, 2010
It's only 1% efficient today, but that number will get better as they keep working on this.
alq131
5 / 5 (1) Jul 23, 2010
The lost Dr. Who episode:
"The Sustainable Dalek"
-- 'Exterminate!' [excrete] 'Exterminate!' [excrete]...

The lost Star Trek episode:
"I am Poo-pootus of Borg. Flatulence is futile, you will be ass_imilated..."
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jul 24, 2010
I want a robotic lawn mower that eats the grass. A mech-cow.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jul 25, 2010
Maybe one of these could be adapted to scoop up all the dog, goose, duck, and other types of excrement from lawns and walkways...
kostas
not rated yet Jul 25, 2010
Is anyone working on a robot that can utilise verbal or written excrement to power itself?
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2010
The next step is to initiate all this via biological design, which is more efficient.

Hmmm...shades of god (small g) issues, there. Of course, when things finally go in that direction people finally begin to ponder the thought that we, as so called 'humans', could have possibly been 'bio-engineered'.

It's kinda hard to miss the possibility when you's makin' its (and yoos) --yerself.

A potentially interesting version of recursive reality evolving as a reflection, both in mind and fact.. full circle, as they say. The loop becomes complete. Sniffing our own farts.