The rowbot opens its mouth to absorb nutrients from dirty water

Row-bot drinks dirty water to swim forever

A robot that is designed to swim in dirty water and absorb nutrients from it to create power has been developed by Bristol University researchers.

The autonomous machine is capable of operating indefinitely in areas with contaminated water by opening its ‘mouth’ to let the water into a digestion chamber where it can extract energy that it uses for movement.

Its microbial fuel cell ‘stomach’ uses the bio-degradation of organic matter to generate electricity using mechanisms inspired by biological organisms.

The prototype robot combines two subsystems, an energy source and actuation system. The first subsystem shows the power generation capability of the robot while the second starts the refuelling process and moves the robot with an energy requirement that is less than the energy generated by the first system.

When it has recharged its electrical energy stores, the machine rows to a new location, ready for further energy production from dirty water.

Jonathan Rossiter, robotics professor at the University of Bristol, said: “The work shows a crucial step in the development of autonomous robots capable of long-term self-power.  Most robots require re-charging or refuelling, often requiring human involvement.”

The prototype mimics the feeding mechanism of the water boatman insect, which employs a broad beaklike mouth to sweep in both fluid and suspended particulate matter.

The robot feeds its microbial fuel cell stomach by opening and closing the mouth-like orifice at each end of the MFC through the bending of a flexible acetate envelope structure.

By using both these systems the robot can be totally independent in water providing enough energy is available in the fluid.

Hemma Philamore, a Bristol PhD student, said: “We anticipate that the row-bot will be used in environmental clean-up operations of contaminants, such as oil spills and harmful algal bloom, and in long term autonomous environmental monitoring of hazardous environments, for example those hit by natural and man-made disasters.”

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