As society becomes increasingly automated with each passing year, there are few instances of totally self-sufficient technology. Automated systems, such as service robots or electric vehicles, require considerable outside resources to operate.
Bristol Robotics Laboratory is attempting to change that with the development of its Row-bot, which swims around while harnessing energy produced by bacteria, which are present in the water in which it swims. The concept is known as a microbial fuel cell (MFC).
The mechanism by which the Row-bot is able to fulfill its energy needs is known as “electrogenic bacterial anabolism.” Simply put, microbes present in the Row-bot’s “stomach” consume organic matter in the water, which then produces an electric current to power the robot.
While this sort of closed loop, energy-forever power source is amazing there’s also another benefit: MFCs clean the water as the Row-bot travels.
The Row-bot moves slowly as it operates, filling its fuel cell by swimming forward 10 strokes and then resting as it processes the water for three minutes. Each one of these cycles uses only 1.8 Joules, which is the same energy used to power a tiny LED light for a little over three seconds.
What possible purpose could this serve other than a very slow pool cleaner? Researchers have suggested applications such as remote environmental monitoring.
But there are other exciting applications for anyone who is able to master the concept of a self sustaining robot.
One of the more exciting projects in this space is that of solar-powered drones providing internet service to previously unreachable areas.
Facebook, known mostly for its privacy invading social network, is in the process of testing its atmospheric drone, which operates at an altitude of 60,000 feet and is powered by the sun. The drone is not yet operational, but Facebook is aggressively pursuing this and other high altitude solar powered devices.
Not to be left out, Google is pursuing its own internet drone called the Solara 50, but it too has yet to achieve operational status. Like Facebook, Google is also pursuing other routes to increase connectivity. Its Project Loon is currently testing the viability of large balloons for connecting remote areas to the internet.
As all these technologies continue to be developed, it is not stretch to think that a future version of the Row-bot will be transmitting its diagnostics along a beam supplied by a Google drone and fully self-powered robotic communications loop!