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Scientists are developing autonomous robots that can generate their own power. Microbial fuel cells could be the answer, since these microbes can turn any organic material into electricity. UK researchers say they could be the future of sustainable energy.
They're on the lookout for something that can fuel a truly autonomous robot. One that can extract power from any environment it operates in.
And it would never run out of juice.
UK researchers are looking into microbial fuel cells, or MFCs. These tiny microbes can turn organic matter into electricity.
This could potentially allow robots to function in remote, or even hazardous environments with no worry about their next battery charge.
This is because MFCs can extract electrical energy from any organic material that's digestible by the microbes in the fuel cell. All you need to do is to feed the MFC food - be it plant matter, flies or dead mice. And this will trigger a digestion process that can make electricity.
Conventional fuel cells and batteries rely on a catalyst to speed up chemical reactions to make electricity. But they degrade and need replenishing.
On the other hand MFCs just need food, and these microbes will continue to generate electricity.
Ioannis Ieropoulos of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory is working towards a day when robots can be truly autonomous and can perform incredible tasks.
[Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, Bristol Robotics Laboratory]:
"One scenario we could imagine is search and rescue missions where you have these robotic devices trying to look for survivors in the debris of a collapsed building for example and we dont need to worry about the fact that that robot, any minute now, will run out of energy and not able to complete the task."
But the idea of having robots that eat animals for fuel are not without their problems.