Friday, November 8, 2013

What is EcoBot?

This afternoon, I saw a post from Science Daily entitled “Artificial Heart to PumpHuman Waste Into Future Robots”; with curiosity I read the whole article and found out that it is about EcoBot. I find the EcoBot very interesting that’s why I did a little research and I created a post about it. So here it is.
EcoBot III
EcoBot is short for Ecological Robot and it refers to a class of energetically autonomous robots that can remain self-sustainable by collecting their energy from material, mostly waste matter, in the environment. The only by-product from this process is carbon dioxide, which would have been produced from the natural biodegradation of the fuel regardless. This carbon dioxide production belongs to the immediate carbon cycle of our planet and does not impose to the already increasing problem of the greenhouse effect.

Clearly, EcoBot is a robot that can function completely on its own by collecting waste and converting it into electricity. Researchers in Bristol Robotics Library U.K. (Melhuish, Greenman, Ieropoulos and Horsfield) developed one of the first EcoBot the EcoBot-I. It utilized sugar as the fuel and ferricyanide in the cathode, to perform phototaxis.

The second EcoBot developed by the same BRL researchers is the EcoBot-II and it was the first robot in the world to perform sensing, information processing, and communication and actuation phototaxis, by utilizing unrefined biomass. In fact, it consumed dead flies, rotten fruits and crustacean shells as the fuel and oxygen from free air as the cathode. EcoBot-II operated continuously for 12 days after having been fed with 8 houseflies of the species Musca domestica  (Ieropoulos et al. 2005a, b; Melhuish et al. 2006).

EcoBot-II is the first practical example of a Symbot (symbiotic robot) that exhibited artificial symbiosis – the beneficial integration between the live microbial part and the artificial mechatronic part.

The two EcoBots do not employ any other form of conventional power supply and do not require any form of initial charging from an external source. Instead, they are powered directly by the onboard microbial fuel cells (MFCs). This is in contrast with Gastrobot, which although it was the first example of a practical application that employed MFCs, it used onboard conventional batteries and required initial charging from the mains.

EcoBot-III was developed in 2010, as part of a European FP-6 funded project, by Ieropoulos I., Greenman J., Melhuish C. and Horsfield I and was the world's first robot to exhibit true self-sustainability, albeit in primitive form. This robot was capable of operating within an enclosed environment for 7 days, by collecting its food and water from the arena environment, metabolizing these through the collection of 48 small-scale Microbial Fuel Cells and excreting the waste by-products at the end of the day. This work was presented at the Artificial Life XII Conference that was held in Odense, Denmark between the 19–23 August 2010 and the scientific paper (Ieropoulos et al. 2010) was published by the MIT Press.

And yesterday (November 7, 2013) as posted by Science Daily, researchers from Bristol (Peter Walters et al 2013 Bioinspir. Biomim) created a new device capable of pumping human waste into the "engine room" of a self-sustaining robot.

Modelled on the human heart, the artificial device incorporates smart materials called shape memory alloys and could be used to deliver human urine to future generations of EcoBot. 

The device has been tested and the results have been presented today, 8 November, in IOP Publishing's journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Researchers based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – a joint venture between the University of the West of England and University of Bristol have created four generations of EcoBots in the past 10 years, each of which is powered by electricity-generating microbial fuel cells that employ live microorganisms to digest waste organic matter and generate low-level power.

In the future, it is believed that EcoBots could be deployed as monitors in areas where there may be dangerous levels of pollution, or indeed dangerous predators, so that little human maintenance is needed. It has already been shown that these types of robots can generate their energy from rotten fruit and vegetables, dead flies, wastewater, sludge and human urine.

EcoBot would be very helpful if it reached its full potential. They can be deployed to dangerous and polluted environment with or without little involvement from humans. What’s great about EcoBot is their capability to create or generate their own electricity that will keep them running. With that, I hope that researchers can find more ways and techniques to improve and take the EcoBots to the next level.


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