How does the idea of a robot using your toilet sound? Unconventional! Well, how would you feel if we told you that the robot serving you is just going to use the crapper to feed and get its version of the ‘daily calories’? Well, even if it does sound a bit gross (did the first time to us, to be honest) the future could very well be filled with such mechanical helpers that would feed on organic waste. And the best part of this revolutionary technology, that is already well on its way, is that it does not depend on conventional sources of energy to tax you further. Welcome to a window into the alternate future.
Genesis and enhancement of the idea
Bristol Robotics Laboratory has made the idea of robots that feed on organic matter and human waste as popular as it is today. In fact, they have started way back at the turn of last century and did produce the first robot that could run on ‘microbial fuel cells’ as far back as 2002. ‘EcoBot’ was powered by E. coli bacteria feeding on refined sugar. The technology was obviously a response to conditions where robots needed to function without access to grid power or charging units for long periods of time.
The synthesis of the first waste-powered robot in 2002 set the wheels rolling on the idea of a self sustainable robotic unit and led to developments that today stand as a shining example of the very best in robotics and alternate energy utilization. It got people from across the world, including leading space research organizations like NASA interested in ‘microbial fuel cell’ technology. With further research and development came the EcoBot II in 2004. This new and advanced version went beyond stored E. coli feeding on refined sugar. It showed that waste-powered robots could sustain themselves on rotten fruits, dead insects and any other type of organic waste lying around.
One of the major developments in waste powered robots that saw a whole new chapter in robotics came in the form of ‘artificial symbiosis’- nature and machine having a mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship. In a world were humans are struggling to have a symbiotic relationship with any aspect of nature, a robot that can sync up with the planet and form a bond that will help sustainability of both parties is indeed a significant first. The idea of organic waste-powered robots that clean up the world and feed themselves on waste led to exploration of greener pastures.
Thus, EcoBot III was born
Both the early versions of EcoBot were able to feed on organic waste to a certain degree, but the advent of EcoBot III ushered a new era in ‘artificial symbiosis’. EcoBot II was the first robotic unit on the planet that had features of self-sustainability. EcoBot III could not just power itself up on organic waste, but could also could function and operate independently based on preset algorithms and instructions in a free environment. In simpler terms, EcoBot III can wander around and collect food for itself and execute the basic tasks that are programmed into it with minimal to non-existent human interference. EcoBot III, created in 2010, has already been tested on a 7 day period in a controlled environment where it forged food and kept itself going on organic waste with no human intervention. The project at Bristol Robotics Laboratory has many backers who believe that the future of robotics is indeed advanced versions of EcoBot.
Entry into space
One of the most alluring fields for the deployment of human waste driven robotic technology and is space exploration. Current models and computerized vehicles that are part of the space program need their own fuel supply and can pretty quickly run low on power if they overstay their set exploration time. But with units that can tap into human waste, we could definitely minimize no such problem.
Moreover, by cutting down on additional power requirements that need to be transported into space, we can cut down on the weight of the payload as well and hence save on launching fuel. And you can even foresee a future where robots will use human waste to supply power back to the ships as they might synthesis more power than they require to function at a minimum level. So, if astronauts need an extra emergency zap of current, all they need to do is poop or take a leak!
The benefit that such robots provide is obvious at this point. All they are acting as is mechanical scavengers of organic waste. And just like the vultures on the planes of Savannah, they could become essential and very effective cleaning agents. A future where dead organic waste is disposed off to generate power in a way that does not hurt the planet sounds like a dream come true.
There are a few concerns that come attached (as always with any modern technology). One of the areas that scientists still need to work on is the mechanism that converts organic waste into energy. The microbes used in models like EcoBot need to be high radiation resistant along with being able to tolerate large temperature variations if they wish to be helpful in space exploration. Of course, there is also the other concern of the dead insect eating robots eating dead humans one day!
Sure, it sounds like a Hollywood movie script where we are just waiting for things to start going bad, but if you can feed off of dead insects, logic suggests you will have no problem decomposing bits of human flesh. That said, we are pretty sure the programmed algorithms take care of that. But many obviously already are expressing similar concerns.
Irrespective of your concerns about robots turning humans into ‘Matrix-like’ pod captured zombies whose poop and flesh will be harnessed by them (Well, we are here to be impartial, not soothe your concerns) the fact of a matter is that the technology is moving forward at a robust pace and will continue to do so. We do feel it is a great idea to have machines like EcoBots that turn useless organic waste into energy and do not depend on grid power given the current fuel and energy crisis; they are most definitely the best way forward.
The whole ‘robot revolution’ is a fun concept to dwell on but in a world where humans are becoming more and more robotic, it is nice to see a robot that has a symbiotic relationship with the planet.