Inspired in part by the water boatman insect, a team of researchers in Bristol, UK, has invented the Row-Bot, a tiny machine that eats waste and pollution and receives electrical power in return. Inside these machines is a colony of hungry bacteria.
It’s a self-sufficient cleaner on a tiny scale, made to bob in the sea and eat tiny bites of waste until there’s nothing left, according to an article in Popular Science.
Presented last month at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany, the paper “Row-bot: An Energetically Autonomous Artificial Water Boatman” details the design and development of the tiny garbage-eating machines.
Powering the row-bot is a bacteria-filled fuel cell. In the cell, bacteria digest organic waste, and produce carbon dioxide as a by-product, as well as the protons and electrons needed to get the electrical circuit in the cell flowing.
The initial goal was to create a machine that could forage, like a wild animal, so it wasn’t dependent on humans to constantly recharge and re-energize itself. In the future, the answer to waste in the water might be sprinkling robots into the stream, and waiting until they eat all the garbage.