Robot heart fueled by human waste

Credit: stock.xchng

The concept of using human waste as fuel is hardly a new one. From toilets that create biogas to urine-powered generators, scientists are looking for ways to use urine and poop to power our planet. Now, a team from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have developed an artificial heart that can collect waste and use it to power a robot.

The robot in question is the Ecobot. The robot uses microbial fuel cells with live microorganisms that eat waste, digest it and turn it into energy that makes the robot function. The Ecobot can travel through highly polluted areas and survive on a diet of rotten fruit, rotten vegetables, dead insects, sludge and urine. Yum!

The artificial heart inside the Ecobot, though, is where the magic happens. Scientists took their cue from the human heart. The robot heart uses “smart” materials that retain their shape, similar to memory foam. When subjected with electricity, this material squeezes a pump that spits out fluid through a tube into the EcoBot’s fuel cells. When the electricity is turned off, the material returns to its original shape and relaxes as it prepares to collect fluid from a reservoir inside the robot.

This process works well enough to feed 24 microbial fuel cells with urine, generating the electricity needed to charge a capacitor, which stores energy for the next new heart pump cycle.

Peter Walters, lead author of the study, 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.”

The scientists involved in the research imagine a world where robots are powered by visiting urinals in the city and collecting liquid waste from farms in the country. All hail our smelly robot overlords!

Via IOP Science

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