Urine powered eco-robots

Researchers have created a device that converts human waste to power EcoBots. The artificial device that functions similar to a human heart uses artificial muscles made from smart materials called shape memory alloys. The muscles compresses the body of the pump (the middle part of the device) and forces the human urine out into the machine’s bacterially-driven ‘engine room.’

Researchers based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – a joint venture between the UWE Bristol and the 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.

Previous studies have proved that EcoBots can generate energy from rotten fruit, vegetables, dead flies, waste water, sludge and human urine.
“We speculate that in the future, urine-powered EcoBots could perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and waste water quality. A number of EcoBots could also function as a mobile, distributed sensor network.

A stack of 24 microbial fuel cells fed on urine were able to generate enough electricity to charge a capacitor. The energy stored in the capacitor was then used to start another cycle of pumping from the artificial heart.

“The artificial heartbeat is mechanically simpler than a conventional electric motor-driven pump by virtue of the fact that it employs artificial muscle fibres to create the pumping action, rather than an electric motor, which is by comparison a more complex mechanical assembly,” continued Walters.

The group’s future research will focus on improving the efficiency of the device, and investigating how it might be incorporated into the next generation of MFC-powered robots.

Bioinspiration and Biomimetics – Artificial heartbeat: design and fabrication of a biologically inspired pump

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