English University Creates Microbial Fuel Cell Robot

September 12, 2004 by Jeff Shepard

A team of scientists and engineers in the Intelligent Autonomous Systems (IAS) lab at the University of the West of England have built a fuel-cell-powered robot that is able to power itself on a diet of dead flies or apples. The robot can move and transmit sensor data over a radio link (over 30 m inside the lab) powered solely by unrefined food, including dead flies and apples.

The robot is known as Ecobot II, which employs a microbial fuel cell as its only power source, which is used to extract electricity directly from food. The 1 kg robot moves at 30 cm/hr. Electricity is extracted from the raw substrate and is stored until there is sufficient for some action to be taken. The "proof-of-concept" robot has sufficient energy to carry out its tasks every few minutes.

The robots could be developed to clean food waste from the environment. Since they don't use fossil fuels and they perform useful tasks, they can be viewed as eco-friendly. Other applications might include attraction of specific types of insects with pheromones, and thus remote robots could be designed to monitor insect densities and give early warning of infestation.