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Row-bot, created by the University of Bristol, generates electricity by taking in dirty water; could help with water pollution (via University of Bristol)

Thanks to developing technology and the military, there are several robots that can survive hazardous environments. They can run and maneuver through rough terrains. Now, there's a robot that powers itself via natural resources. The University of Bristol researchers, a collaboration between the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol, have built Row-bot (get it, robot?) a swimming robot that powers itself by feeding on dirty water. It works by paddling to propel itself forward and helps it microbial fuel cell (MFC) by ingesting nutrients its needs to generate electricity located in its “stomach.” As long as it's swimming through dirty water it may never need to stop and refuel.


A robot that runs in the water sounds like an oxymoron, but the team got the idea straight from nature. The Bristol Robotics Laboratory got the idea for the bot from the aquatic insect named the water boatman beetle, which feeds on algae and dead plants. The robot's system copies the biology of the water boatman, which uses its mouth to drink in fluid and algae.


Row-bot's current prototype mixes two systems: a “bio-inspired energy source” and “bio-inspired energy source,” which creates electricity, and a “bio-inspired actuation” that allows the robot to refuel and move without using all of its generated energy. This works by feeding on chemical energy contained in its surrounding fluid to support the microbial metabolism inside the MFC.


Not only is the Row-bot efficient, but it makes for an ideal machine to fight against water pollution, which is still one of the biggest killers in the world. Co-author of the Row-bot research Hemma Philamore believes the bot can be used in “environmental clean-up operations of contaminants, such as oil spills and harmful algal bloom. And in long term autonomous environmental monitoring of hazardous environments, for example those hit by natural and man-made disasters.” Right now the Row-bot is still in the testing stages, so what's next for the machine?


“[The] next stage in this work is the direct integration of these subsystems with the addition of switching circuitry also powered by the microbial fuel cell. The resulting Row-bot can be developed for applications such as remote sensing and environmental monitoring and cleanup,” said a report on the robot.


Of course this one little robot can't completely solve a problem as big as water pollution,but it's definitely a step in the right direction. It can still help clean up certain waters and hopefully, it will inspired other researchers to create more machines to aid this issue.

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