Feeds

Boffins build R2-WEE-2: The urine-powered robot with a human-like heart

Boffins work towards full autonomy for waste-slurping 'droid

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Scientists have taken one step closer to creating a truly autonomous waste-driven robot by building an artificial heart capable of pumping urine into the machine's bacterially-driven "engine room".

The "EcoBot" is powered by "electricity-generating microbial fuel cells that employ live microorganisms to digest waste organic matter and generate low-level power".

Researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – a hook-up between the University of the West of England and University of Bristol – have spent ten years working on the beast.

EcoBot III (see below) - designed by the lab's Ioannis Ieropoulos and colleagues - currently dines on dead flies, as did EcoBot II.

EcoBot III. Pic: Bristol Robotics Laboratory

It's a nice idea, but there are practical problems attached to attracting and trapping insect nourishment.

The solution, and in turn the key to self-sufficiency, may be a device (pictured below) which works in a similar fashion to the human heart, using “artificial muscles” fashioned from shape metal alloys.

The EcoBot's artificial heart. Pic: Bristol Robotics Laboratory

The team explains: "When heated with an electric current, the artificial muscles compressed a soft region in the centre of the heart-pump, causing the fluid to be ejected through an outlet and pumped to a height that would be sufficient to deliver fluid to an EcoBot’s fuel cells.

"The artificial muscles are then cooled and returned to their original shape when the electric current was removed, causing the heart-pump to relax and prompting fluid from a reservoir to be drawn in for the next cycle."

Peter Walters, lead author of the study, which appears in today's Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, said: “The artificial heartbeat is mechanically simpler than a conventional electric motor-driven pump by virtue of the fact that it employs artificial muscle fibres to create the pumping action, rather than an electric motor, which is by comparison a more complex mechanical assembly."

Walters stressed to El Reg that while the heart is functioning, it's matter of future development to actually get it built into the next generation EcoBot.

The scientists reckon EcoBots might in the future "perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and air quality", or act en masse as a "mobile, distributed sensor network".

They suggest: "In the city environment, they could recharge using urine from urinals in public lavatories. In rural environments, liquid waste effluent could be collected from farms."

Naturally, our vision for the future is Terminator-style urine-powered killbots menacing humanity, or at best generally making a complete nuisance of themselves hanging around toilets begging for a drink.

Regarding these chilling scenarios, Walters concluded: "It is hard to predict and control the long-term application of any new technology, and this is particularly difficult in a fast-moving field like robotics. We hope that future waste-powered robots would be used for humane (eg environmental monitoring) and not harmful purposes." ®

Bootnote

After publication, Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos from the BRL got in touch to clarify: "The EcoBot line of work developed at BRL has always had the benevolent waste utilisation in mind, and so when these self-sustainable robots are being developed, the main target application is remote area access, where it would be lethal, impossible or undesirable for humans to go. This has been at the core of the research and any association with the science-fiction imaginative robots [to which] you refer would be inaccurate."

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.