Urine-powered robots get an artificial heart © Getty Images

Urine-powered robots get an artificial heart

In many a dystopian future, autonomous robots lay waste to mankind. However, urine-powered robots currently being developed in the UK are here to help.

In many a dystopian future, autonomous robots lay waste to mankind. However, urine-powered robots currently being developed in the UK are here to help.

Advertisement

Researchers in Bristol have developed an innovative human-like heart that pumps urine to fuel cells that power the robots. This means that the machines could eventually become self-sufficient, patrolling areas that are polluted or dangerous to humans.

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a joint venture between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. Over the past decade they have created four generations of ‘EcoBots’ that are powered by microbial fuel cells. These fuel cells contain living organisms that produce electricity as urine is broken down. The team has already shown that the cells can run off other equally appetising organic material such as dead flies, waste water, sludge, and rotten fruit and vegetables.

The artificial heart could pump urine around a robot, creating electricity where it's needed (credit: Bristol Robotics Laboratory)
The artificial heart could pump urine around a robot, creating electricity where it’s needed (credit: Bristol Robotics Laboratory)

The robotic heart developed by the researchers uses so-called ‘shape memory’ alloys: a type of smart material that can ‘remember’ its original shape. In this case, the material compresses when heated, pumping liquid out of the heart’s internal chamber. When the current that heats it is removed, it returns to its original shape and the chamber is filled with urine. This mechanism could transport urine around a future robot, delivering it to fuel cells where it can be converted into power.

‘‘In the future, urine-powered EcoBots could perform environmental monitoring tasks such as measuring temperature, humidity and air quality,” says Dr Peter Walters, who led the study at the University of the West of England. “In the city environment, they could recharge using urine from public lavatories.’’

So the next time you go to the toilet, think of all that potential energy you’re flushing down the loo.


Advertisement

Follow Science Focus on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and Flipboard