Rise of the Machines: Scientists Create Robotic Gut

Gutbot Ecobot III looks non-threatening enough -- something like a souped-up tambourine bedazzled with transistors and wires -- but it represents the future of robotic digestion.

Depending on your perspective, this represents either an impressive technological and scientific advance or a foreboding step in the direction of a Terminator-style gastronomic "Judgment Day."

The robotic gut was created by scientists as the Bristol Robotics Lab in the UK. The project is part of a larger scientific effort to create autonomous robots that can fuel themselves and be sustained without human intervention.

According to Popular Science, the robot is able to extract a small amount of energy from a mixture of sewage:

The method is pretty simple: the 'bot navigates itself to a dispenser filled with the sewage mixture and takes in what it needs. The mixture is distributed into 48 bacteria-filled MFCs where it is metabolized into hydrogen atoms that in turn migrate to an electrode where, through the magic of fuel cells, a current is generated. Once every 24 hours -- Ecobot III is admirably regular -- the robot purges its synthetic gut into a special waste chamber.

Ecobot III has demonstrated the ability to survive unaided for up to seven days, feeding and watering itself -- it needs periodic drinks of water to maintain power generation -- and even exhibiting small intelligent behaviors, like moving toward sources of light. But it moves very slowly and is highly inefficient, capitalizing on just one percent of the chemical energy actually available within its food.

While the performance of the machine is impressive, Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Lab, downplayed the digestive power of the Ecobot III to New Scientist: "Diarrhea-bot would be more appropriate," Melhuish said. "It's not exactly knocking out rabbit pellets."

Image: University of the West of England.



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