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This Tiny Autonomous Robot Is Powered by Pollution

Throw it in the water and watch it go to town on organic waste.

To the left, the row-bot with its mouth open. To the right, the row-bot with its mouth closed. Via Hemma Philamor, et al.

When engineering researchers in Bristol, England, decided to build an autonomous robot, they looked to nature for inspiration. The water boatman beetle spends most of its time (usurprisingly) in the water, and pushes itself along with surprising speed and efficiency thanks to the synchronous paddling of its hind legs. These beetles also have a curious way of eating: They open their wide, beak-like mouths to accept both fluid and the delicious particulate matter inside.


Enter the researchers’ creation, which they presented in October at this year’s IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany. No, it’s not a robot; it’s a row-bot.

Once thrown in the water, this little critter is able to keep moving thanks to an artificial stomach “lined” with bacteria. The row-bot’s yawning, beetle-like mouth allows water and organic matter to enter. Once in the stomach, the bacteria convert the matter into energy, which the bot uses to row.

What does this have to do with pollution? Though the row-bot functions best in a liquid mixture specially formulated for its swimming pleasure, it can also thrive in water filled with sewage. In this case, the bot takes in dirty water and puts out energy.

In the end, the researchers hope the small robot will be used to generate energy, to monitor the environment, and to facilitate cleanup should something go environmentally awry.

(Via Popular Science)