Bill Gates funds robot hearts powered by human pee

Credit: IOP Science

If you've been worrying yourself into a tizzy because you just can't figure out how we're going to power all these robot maids and pizza delivery drones, then have we got good news for you. British researchers working at the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol have invented a pee-powered robot heart. The hope is that every time you need to relieve yourself, it'll also be time to recharge the robot maid. Insert R. Kelly reference here.

Far from a fetishist's musing, the pee-powered heart is actually a microbial fuel cell, which feeds upon urine to generate electricity. The waste doesn't even have to be pee, really. Liquid waste from rotten fruits, dead flies or sewer sludge would foot the bill just as nicely. Think of the device as a sort of prototype of Mr. Fusion from Back to the Future. Microbes within the robot heart break down the waste and electrodes collect the energy generated as the microbes eat. In an odd twist of fate, the current generation of pee-bots are being designed as air quality and pollution sensors.

That's partially due to the low electricity needs of such sensors, since the pee-bots (or EcoBots, if you want to be precise) aren't that efficient just yet. Current pee-power efficiency levels are about .11 percent, which is pretty darn dismal. As of yet, the most impressive bit of electronics the pee-powered heart can charge is a cellphone.

Considering that the human race isn't about to run out of urine anytime soon, we can likely afford low efficiency levels in powering our pee-bots. The Bristol-based researchers are also looking at a number of ways to improve efficiency as this first prototype robot heart was designed more as a proof of concept than anything else.

As new as the concept of powering robots with human waste is, it has already caught the eye of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. With a financial backer like that giving it life, the pee-powered robot heart could very well indeed become a reality in the years to come.

IOP Science, via

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook