Gastrobot, meaning literally 'robot with stomach', was a term coined in 1998 by the University of South Florida Institute's director, Dr. Stuart Wilkinson. A gastrobot is "an intelligent machine (robot) that derives all its energy requirements from the digestion of real food". The Gastrobot's energy intake may come in the form of carbohydrates, lipids etc., or may be a simpler source, such as alcohol.
The energy source commonly used for this robot is a mixture of carbohydrates and protein. These molecules are obtained from food through a microbial fuel cell (MFC) which then converts the food into gases and other potential energy. The gases and liquids are used to help fuel things such as a hydrogen fuel cell which help create more energy, along with other gases that help power the mechanics of the gastrobot.
The future of these robots supposedly is for certain types of so-called 'start and forget' missions on an ecological plateau which would be Earth at the current period in time.[clarification needed] Their optic sensors may have artificial intelligence software that allows them to determine what is edible for consumption and energy conversion.
Gastrobotics will allow self-sustaining robots to be deployed for extended periods of time without human supervision. The common types of robots today that are powered by solar panels, batteries or other types of energy tend to lose their reliability as soon as they do not have human supervision. Batteries must be replaced which requires human intervention. Other robots must be plugged in in order to recharge which means that they must have constant access to an outlet. This also means that they cannot stray too far form an outlet. Solar powered robots are a good step to creating independent robots, however, this requires a large surface area of solar panels in order to be efficient. Not only is this bulky, it is also dependent on weather conditions and panels must be kept clean in order to remain efficient. Gastrobotics will allow robots to live entirely off the natural resources available in an area. The main goal of this new technology is to allow robots to be able to be sent out on missions where human supervision is either not available or not desirable.
Some examples include
- Automatic lawn mower powered by grass clippings
- Fruit picking or soil testing robot powered by fallen leaves or fruit
- Exploration robots that are powered by their own environment
- Sea exploration: seaweed and algae
- Forest exploration: grass, fruits and vegetables
How It Works
- Gastroboitcs energy source mainly focuses on the use of a Microbial Fuel cell. Microbial fuel Cells require an oxidation reduction reaction in order to generate electricity. The microbial Fuel Cell functions through the use of bacteria which requires food to live. The fuel cell typically contains two compartments, the Anode and cathode terminals which are separated by an ion exchange membrane. Firstly, in the anode chamber, the bacteria remove electrons from the organic material and then the bacteria give the electrons to something that is willing to accept them. In this case a carbon electrode accepts the electrons. The electrons then move through the ion exchange membrane to the cathode chamber where they combine with protons and oxygen to form water. The electrons flowing from the anode into the cathode terminals generate the current and voltage required to make electricity. From this point there is research going into using a Hydrogen Fuel cell to amplify the amount of energy generated from the Microbial Fuel Cell. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell will use the byproducts of the microbial fuel cell in order to create more energy without having to consume any more material. Parts of the Gastrobot
- Harvesting: Must be able to gather food from real world settings. Must include some sort of arm or appendage in order to grab food and consume it.
- Mastication: Some type of mouth will be required in order to be able to "chew" or break down food into smaller pieces before sent through the system.
- Ingestion: An esophagus will be needed to move food from the "mouth" of the robot to the microbial fuel cell.
- Digestion: The stomach is where the Microbial fuel cell lies and is where the energy production takes place.
- Defecation: Similarly to animals the Gastrobot must have a way to remove waste to avoid build up within the machine.
The best source of fuel for a Gastrobot is anything high in carbohydrates. A Gastrobot prefers to consume vegetables, fruit, grains, insects and foliage in order to produce energy. However, it can also consume organic waste products such as urine, anaerobic sludge (biodegradable waste and sewage) and landfill leachate. Meat can be used as a fuel, however it contains too much fat in order to be used as an efficient fuel source.
The future of Gastrobotics has many potential benefits to society.
- Robot independence: This will allow robots to not require human supervision while carrying out tasks. Independence has the potential to greatly improve efficiency by allowing robots to carry out the intended job while humans can work on a different project at the same time.
- Eco-friendly fuel source: The Gastrobot, by breaking down food, allows for a completely green fuel source. After the food is broken down into energy what is left over is H2O and O2 (water and oxygen). This type of energy source wil allow robots to function without increasing pollution released into the atmosphere.
Since the Gastrobot is still in its early stages of development it still has many challenges it must overcome
- Efficiency: The current prototype is still incredibly inefficient. It takes about 18 hours of "carbo-loading" for about 15 minutes of movement. This means that the current Gastrobot is still virtually useless in any real world application in its current stage.
- Foraging: Must be able to locate, identify and acquire food with potential for consumption.
- Intelligence: Has a long way to progress before Gastrobots are truly efficient in many real world application. They must be able to locate, identify and acquire food with potential for consumption. They must also be able to identify and adapt to new environments while following the preset instructions for their "mission".
- Maneuverability: The current prototype has very little maneuverability. In order for the robot to not only move around various environments it must also be able to grab, harvest and move potential fuel sources.
Furthermore, there needs to be a way for the robot to regulate the amount of food it eats at a time. Sort of like an electronic "appetite". If the robot consumes to much organic material it may overload the machine and cause it to clog. Furthermore, it must know when it must go out and search for food.
As robots become more independent they will need to be made more compliant. If a robot is out on a "mission" it will need to be sensitive to others around it instead of having a "complete task at all costs" mentality.
- Digesting Duck, Vaucanson's 18th century forerunner
- Bender - a fictional robot from the year 3000 that 'lives' on common alcohol.
- In the film Runaway, you can see a robot that eat slugs.
- Wilkinson, Stuart (2000-09-01). ""Gastrobots"—Benefits and Challenges of Microbial Fuel Cells in FoodPowered Robot Applications". Autonomous Robots 9 (2): 99–111. doi:10.1023/A:1008984516499. ISSN 0929-5593.
- Penn State College of Engineering. "Microbial Fuell Cell" (PDF). Microbial Fuel Cell.
- Ieropoulos, Ioannis A.; Greenman, John; Melhuish, Chris; Horsfield, Ian (2012-06-01). "Microbial Fuel Cells for Robotics: Energy Autonomy through Artificial Symbiosis". ChemSusChem 5 (6): 1020–1026. doi:10.1002/cssc.201200283. ISSN 1864-564X.
- ""Human-Robot Interaction" by Erika Rogers". digitalcommons.calpoly.edu. Retrieved 2015-10-21.