You’re in for a shock if you don’t believe that robots can be powered by human pee. The EcoBot has been developed to run off urine. It is modeled along the same lines as a human heart, and the wee wee powers its “engine room.” The waste is then cleverly converted into electricity. This invention is certainly eco-friendly as it runs off a resource that is in no danger of running out.
Scientists at the University of the West of England have been working on the EcoBots for ten years now, and are very pleased with the latest version, which some wags are called R2-Wee-2. They work by digesting the live microorganisms in the waste which are converted through microbial fuel cells into a low-level power source. Potential uses are as monitors in situations where it would be dangerous for real people, such as areas of high pollution.
The original research was published in the respected Royal Society of Chemistry journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. The latest findings are now published in the scientific journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.
These unfussy robots aren’t going to need a lot of maintenance as long as they get their diet of waste matter. They are not fussy eaters and will happily thrive on rotten fruit, dead flies and sludge as well as their preference for pee.
Its artificial heart mechanism is simpler than that of a traditional electric motor, which has more complex parts, and is more subject to mechanical failures. EcoBot uses artificial muscle fibres to mimic the pumping action of the human heart. These muscles cool and relax, than draw up more fluid from the reservoir of wee, for each cycle to recommence.
Peter Walters, a member of the research team, sees many possible uses for EcoBot in the future. “Urine-powered EcoBots could perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and air quality,” he said in a press release. They have already been tested successfully in charging mobile phones.
As to where they will get their fresh supplies of fluid from, he speculates that, in a city environment “they could re-charge using urine from urinals in public lavatories.” Country-based EcoBots may have to rely on “liquid waste effluent collected from farms.” This can hardly help but generate images of the urine-thirsty robots hanging around public toilets and farmyards desperate for a drink.
Walters is sanguine about such scenarios. He says that the field of robotics is moving so fast that it is impossible to predict the long-term applications. However, it is his fervent hope that EcoBots will be used for humane purposes and will not develop to any harmful or threatening extent
Shortages are not envisaged, as the team behind EcoBots have calculated that between us we produce 6.4 trillion litres of urine every year. They also reckon that the average person has the capacity to power 300 of their Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) per day.
For those who may remain skeptical and suspect the robot makers of “taking the piss,” here is a YouTube video that showcases the device at work. These robots are indeed taking the pee, but that’s what makes them go.
By Kate Henderson