Is your robot’s heart running low on power? Soon you’ll be able to refuel it simply by going to the little boys or girls’ room, if the project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation goes through.
The idea of using waste to power mechanical parts may not be new, but certainly the thought of using urine as fuel hasn’t crossed many minds. Until now, that is. The artificial heartbeat actuator developed by scientists at the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol is in fact powered by microbial fuel cells that feed upon human urine. Mind you, these pee-powered robot hearts won’t be used in humans with heart failure, but in EcoBots that will turn organic waste into electrical energy. And we all know there’s a lot of organic waste out there!
Researchers will have to improve the way EcoBots work, as currently they are not very efficient. This isn’t necessarily a major downside, as I don’t see humankind running out of urine just yet. For the moment, the pee-bots will just be used for detecting pollution and establishing whether air quality is good enough. They seem to work better as sensors now than that robots that turn organic waste to electricity, but surely things will change in the future.
Also, don’t expect the EcoBots to generate a lot of energy. In the tests conducted by the researchers, the amount of electric current generated was enough for charging a phone, but is it OK to get a robot only for that?
Technically speaking, organic waste does not harm the environment. On the contrary, rotten fruits and vegetables are the main ingredient of high-quality compost. The EcoBots, however, are meant to turn more than just that into electricity. Dead flies and even sewer sludge will eventually be consumed by the microbial fuel cells.
While many will raise an eyebrow at the thought that heart-resembling mechanism are going to be powered with human urine, the idea appealed Bill Gates, and as a consequence, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is now one of the financial supporters of the project. Research is often slowed down by the lack of funds, but with such a great backer, lots of things could happen, not to mention that all sorts of wacky ideas could be put into practice.
If you liked this post, please check the funny conversation between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and these retro 8-bit heart bookends.