Researchers working on an environmentally friendly robot which decomposes at the end of its useful life cycle have received a Research Project Grant of over £200,000 from the Leverhulme trust.
Researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) – a collaboration between the Universities of Bristol and West England (UWE) – were awarded £209,558 for their latest project; A robot that decomposes: towards biodegradable robotic organisms.
“In this project we will take a radical step away from conventional robots and we hope to create a biodegradable robot,” said Dr Jonathan Rossiter, senior lecturer from the Department of Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol, and lead researcher on the project.
Conventional robots are made of rigid, hard-wearing materials – many of which are toxic, non-biodegradable and have a negative effect on the environment. These robots must be continually tracked in order to recover it at the end of its useable life cycle.
Together will co-investigator Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, senior research fellow at UWE; Rossiter aims to show that autonomous soft robotic artificial organisms can gracefully decomposition after death.
“Once a biodegradable robot has reached the end of its mission, for example, having performed some environmental clean-up activity following an oil spill, it will decompose into harmless material,” Rossiter said.
Many more of these biodegradable robots can be deployed since they no longer need to be tracked and recovered. Hundreds or thousands of robots could safely be deployed safely in the knowledge that they will have zero environmental impact.
The BRL is currently working on the Ecobot – a sugar powered autonomous robot – and this grant will be used to enhance its biodegradability. The robot is equipped with a microbial fuel cell (MFC) which extracts electrical energy from refined foods like sugar, and unrefined foods like insects and fruits. This is achieved by extracting electrons from microbial metabolic processes.
The Bristol Robotics Laboratory – the largest robotics lab of its type in the UK – was opened by Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts in May this year.