This little robotic eco-warrior has a fuel cell sustained by bacteria living inside of the device, which in turn is scooped up from the water as it glides along the surface of a polluted lake, river or stream.
Four buoyant stabilizers serve as floating feet while two paddles attached to the center of the device propel it like a skimmer across liquid surfaces. As it travels, electrogenic bacteria ‘digest’ pollutants it encounters, generating carbon dioxide and electricity in the process, all of which keeps the Row-bot going. Indeed, it is able to produce more energy than it uses, allowing it to keep functioning effectively indefinitely.
The project is a collaboration between teams of scientists and roboticists at the University of Bristol, Bristol BioEnergy Centre and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and was presented last month at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany.
“We present a design for an energetically autonomous artificial organism, combining two subsystems; a bioinspired energy source and bio-inspired actuation,” according to their research paper. “The work is the first demonstration of energetically autonomy in a microbial fuel cell (MFC)-powered, swimming robot taking energy from it’s surrounding, aqueous environment. In contrast to previous work using stacked MFC power sources, the Row-bot employs a single microbial fuel cell as an artificial stomach and uses commercially available voltage step-up hardware to produce usable voltages.”