bots IN BRIEF
(NOT) IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
A pair of robotic vehicles from Vislab (the artificial vision and intelligent
systems lab at the University of Parma) departed Parma, Italy in July for
Shanghai, China. The 100% electric vans will travel 8,000 miles over three
months, enduring (hopefully) all kinds of extremes ranging from downtown
Moscow to the Gobi desert.
These vans are actually “autonomously” following a vehicle that’s being
driven by a human. The vans have been kitted out with the same sort of
obstacle detection and avoidance tech as the DARPA Grand and Urban
For now, this technology is targeted mostly at goods transport as
opposed to letting you take a nap while your car drives you somewhere.
ON A ROLL
This latest DARPA Chembot prototype is a collaboration between
iRobot, MIT, and Harvard, and like its Chembot compatriots, the system
of movement it employs is quite simple: by selectively inflating
compartments on its exterior, the robot can roll itself forward.
Ultimately, this robot would be powered by chemical pressure (instead of
compressed air) achieved through thermal expansion or phase transition
or “smart fluid” (whatever that is).
NOW, THIS IS THE SH...
This robot goes poo. Ecobot III contains a fully functional digestive system capable
of ingesting biomass, turning it into energy, and then excreting waste. Lovely. The actual
digestion process is done by a series of microbial fuel cells (MFCs), where bacteria
chow down and produce hydrogen atoms as a byproduct. The hydrogen goes into a
fuel cell which generates electricity to power the robot, plus pure water which the
robot then drinks to keep itself from getting dehydrated. The remaining biomass goes
through the entire cycle once more, and then it’s, um, purged.
Director of Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Chris Melhuish, said MFCs had been tried
before but an artificial gut was needed to solve the problem of previous models which was that humans had to clean up the
waste left by bacterial digestion. Melhuish explained the robot was called Ecobot III, but admitted “diarrhea-bot would be more
appropriate, as it’s not exactly knocking out rabbit pellets.”
The difference between Ecobot and other robots that use biomass for fuel (like EATR) is that Ecobot digests things to
produce energy rather than burning them to generate heat to boil water to create steam to produce energy. Thanks to its
bellyfull of microbes, Ecobot is actually able to digest things, and this makes it much more adaptable when it comes to sources
of fuel, since it’s able to run on stuff that doesn’t burn (like waste water). Yep, this robot not only poos, it can potentially be
powered by poo. At the moment, Ecobot III is only 1% efficient, and while it’s technically capable of operating for several days
completely on its own, it can’t really do much in that time.
Cool tidbits herein provided by Evan Ackerman at www.botjunkie.com, www.robotsnob.com, www.plasticpals.com, and other places.
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