A new study speculates that robots employed to monitor the running of future cities will be capable of feeding themselves with waste from public toilets.
British engineers are already working on an artificial ‘heart’ which turns urine into a power source for a robot called EcoBot. EcoBot will be capable of functioning independently in city environments by collecting waste and converting it into electricity.
Robotics expert Peter Walters, of the University of the West of England, said: “We speculate that in the future, urine-powered EcoBots could perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and air quality.
“In the city environment, the robots could recharge using urine from urinals in public lavatories. In rural environments, liquid waste could be collected from farms.
“We might see these EcoBots in our cities in the next two years, monitoring pollution and light and maybe even monitoring traffic levels.
“We could eventually see robotic traffic lights, powered by urine.”
Scientists predict that robots will have an increasingly important part to play in city life. All over the world city planners are creating super-efficient ‘smart cities’ where infrastructure and resources are all centrally regulated.
It is believed that urine-powered EcoBots could be deployed as monitors in areas where it would be better not to send humans, such as those with dangerous levels of pollution.
It has already been shown that robots can generate their energy from rotten fruit and vegetables, dead flies and waste water.
The ‘heart’ device in EcoBot supplies urine to 24 microbial fuel cells which generate enough electricity to power the robot and charge a capacitor which keeps the heart pumping.
The device is made from high-tech material which resembles human tissue in its ability to retain its shape.
Hailing the ingenuity of the design, Mr Walters said: “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.”
The device has been tested and the results have been published today (OCT 8) in the journal ‘Bioinspiration and Biomimetics’ by IOP Publishing.
Researchers are based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory – a joint venture between the University of the West of England and University of Bristol.