Innovation That Matters

Autonomous water-cleaning robot is powered by bacteria


Bristol Robotics Laboratory design an autonomous robot that recharges its own battery with fuel from a ‘microbial stomach’.

We’ve seen how autonomous robots — such as these smart ecological management devices — can help protect vulnerable environments. However, the use of autonomous robotics has so far been limited by their need for high energy and inconvenient refueling. Now, Bristol Robotics Laboratory has designed Row-bot, which uses bacteria to self-power as it cleans polluted water.

With a design inspired by water boatmen insects, Row-bot will skim the water surface, filtering out pollutants. Integrated microbes in the device’s ‘stomach’ will break down the pollution into clean byproducts, and in doing so generate a voltage that powers its battery. This microbial fuel cell acts as an autonomous energy source, charging Row-bot’s low-power swimming and filters for extended periods without human intervention.

The team’s microbial fuel cell design could enable many other robots to function alone without needing to recharge. How else could robots help clean up the environment?



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