(Left) Egestion Vessel for the EcoBot III (Right) Sludge and water distributor for EcoBot III (via Bristol Robotics Laboratory)
Robots are not only difficult to design and build, but they are also a challenge to handle after a project has ended. Robots are manufactured using resilient materials but many are toxic and non-biodegradable and so have a negative impact on the environment if they are not retrieved and disposed of safely.
Dr. Jonathan Rossiter from the University of Bristol and Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos of the University of the West of England, are embarking on a project that will tackle this problem head on.
To do this, they have received a grant of over £200,000 from the Leverhulme Trust. The team will attempt to build a robot completely out of biodegradable materials. They will apply this technology to an existing project they call the "Ecobot," which is a robot that uses Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology for energy. MFCs function by extracting electrons from the microbial metabolic processes as they feed on things like sugar, fruits or even insects. For this reason, the Ecobot is a perfect candidate to go full biodegradable.
Biodegradable robots will change the way robots can be used for research. Currently, a lot of effort must be put into keeping track of the robot and salvaging them once they are not operating. But if Rossiter and Ieropoulos are successful, researchers could unleash hundreds of robots with no worries of environmental damage after the robots stop functioning.