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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Self-Sustaining Robot

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky reports on the EcoBots, a new design of robots that create their own energy by eating flies.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: California’s bid to put a lid on the gases that are warming the planet. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Eileen Bolinsky.


BOLINSKY: It may sound more like science fiction than science, but a team of British scientists are developing what they hope will become the ultimate, autonomous, killer robot.

As reported in the current issue of New Scientist magazine, robotic scientists in Bristol, England are refining the design of EcoBot II: a robot that produces its own power by catching and “digesting” flies.

The EcoBots will be used as “release and forget” devices, meaning they can be sent into areas that are either too dangerous or inaccessible to humans. The robots would carry out tasks such as monitoring temperature or toxic gas concentrations, for example. Results would then be radioed back to a base station.

EcoBot is not the first carnivorous robot to be developed, but if scientists succeed in making it self-sustaining, it may well prove the most practical. The robot is designed to generate its own power by breaking down the sugar contained in the skeletons of flies, a process which releases electrons that drive an electric current.

Right now, the flies must be manually fed into the fuel cells, but scientists are improving the design of the EcoBot so it will be able to lure the insects on its own. The likeliest way they will accomplish this, however, is by using sewage or excrement for bait—a solution that is guaranteed to cause quite a stink. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Eileen Bolinsky.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Fontanelle “Picture Start” FONTANELLE (Kranky – 2000)]



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