According to the National Resources Defense Council, dirty water is considered the world’s biggest health risk. We find ourselves in a dire predicament where pollution – toxic chemicals, dirt, trash, and disease carrying organisms – is contaminating both our waterways and our oceans. When you couple this with the increasing global problem known as climate change, you then start to realize just how big of a problem this really is.
To address this problem, researchers from the University of Bristol have engineered an autonomous swimming robot that digests pollution and converts it back into electricity for fuel. Say hello to the Row-Bot!
As shown in the TED talk video provided below, the Row-Bot is an autonomous water boat “bug” that feeds on microbes using its microbial fuel cell stomach. When it digests the microbes, the Row-Bot then converts them into electricity as fuel for the motor, which then controls both its propulsion and paddles. It’s said that it can operate continuously for months and that it generates more energy than it consumes.
Five to ten years from now, the Row-Bot should be swimming throughout our waterways with a vicious diet for pollution. If successful, we should witness the birth of other robots and various innovations which will help us combat against each and every threat posed upon our planet. In doing so, we’ll have taken several steps forward to ensuring a much healthier future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.
Another commonality to come as a result of the Row-Bot’s success will be the increasing development of robots that were largely inspired by other biological creatures. Bio-inspired robotics has become one of the hottest new ventures within the international robotics industry. As shown with the Row-Bot, not only will these robots mimic the biological functions of certain animals to increase their efficiency, but will equally be used to help protect the planet.
“Sometimes tankers flush their oil tanks into the sea, so oil is released into the sea that way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could treat that in some way using robots that could eat the pollution the oil fields have produced? So that’s what we do. We make robots that will eat pollution.”
– Jonathan Rossiter
Thirty to fifty years from now, robots will not appear as they do today. The simplicity of the Row-Bot might be semi-quaint to look at, but it will “evolve” into something far more complex as time goes on. By this time, we might not even be able to differentiate between robotic creatures and organic ones. Our skies will be littered with robotic insects, keeping our atmosphere clean. While our oceans will be flooded with robotic fish, keeping our water free of pollution.
If all goes according to plan, these robots might not even be operating here on Earth. They also could be sent off to other planets, such as Mars, with the mission of helping human colonists terraform. Though, as we continue increasing our use of advanced technologies, we might want to begin using these innovations for the betterment of both humanity and Earth itself. So long we remain living on this rock, it might be in our best interests to ensure its overall safety up to the point we begin colonizing other planets throughout the ever-expanding cosmos.
Photo Credit: TED.com