Scientists Unveil Pee Powered Robots, Environmentalists And Techies Rejoice

The Ultimate Alternative Energy Source

By Kendra Pierre-Louis on November 11, 2013 12:01 AM EST

Researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England have taken waste fuels to a whole new level with their recently unveiled a robot, known as the EcoBot powered by humanity's most abundant resource: urine.

Modeled on the artificial heart, the device integrates shape memory alloys to simulate heart muscles as a vital part of its design. The bot's heart-like pump contracts and relaxes depending on the presence of electrical current, pumps the urine to microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that digest it and generate a small electric current in response. The electricity is stored in a capacitor, where once electricity has been collected, the capacitor discharges and the artificial muscles in the pump are then cooled, returning to their original shape. This causes the heart-pump to relax prompting fluid from a reservoir to be drawn in for the next cycle. The end result is a self-sustaining robot that is powered by the waste it collects - like something out of the animated movie Wall-E.

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It is the fourth generation of EcoBot in ten years as part of a joint venture between the University of the West of England and University of Bristol. Each version was designed to run on waste products. EcoBots, have successfully been powered by rotten fruit and vegetables, dead flies, waste water, sludge and now, yes, urine.

The bots aren't just cool, however. In the future, EcoBots could be deployed as monitors in areas where there may be dangerous levels of pollution, or radiation, dangerous predators, so that little human maintenance is needed. These self-sustaining monitors could help track radiation levels in places like Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Lead author of the study Peter Walters, from the Centre for Fine Print Research, said in a statement, "We speculate that in the future, urine-powered EcoBots could perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity, and waste water quality. A number of EcoBots could also function as a mobile, distributed sensor network... In the city environment, they could re-charge using urine from urinals in public lavatories. In rural environments, liquid waste effluent could be collected from farms."

Rupert Ganzer
Rupert Ganzer

The EcoBot pratical applications still rest in the future, however. The EcoBot's fuel cells are still prone to mechanical failures and blockages, making routine human intervention a continued necessity. 

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