Robot Powered By Microbes Will Clean Bodies Of Water As It Rows The Surface

The Row-bot is powered by the microbes it scoops up from the water and digests.



Technology is amazing. Not only has a company recently designed a 3D printed limb that can be created in just over 42 hours and costs $3,000, a new robot created by researchers at the University of Bristol is capable of cleaning bodies of water nearly indefinitely – no charge necessary.

How is this possible? The mini robot is powered by the microbes it scoops up from the water and digests, therefore, is fueled by an ever-increasing source of energy.

GizMag reports that the Row-bot was inspired by the water boatman insect (below) and uses a similar mechanism to glide across the surface of water. It is propelled by a paddle powered by a 0.75 Watt DC motor. Both the bug and robot maximize surface area when making a stroke and then minimize surface area during the recovery stroke to have the most efficiency.

Water Boatman Insect Credit:

Water Boatman Insect

The Row-bot features a “stomach” that houses a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that is powered by bacteria extracted from the water and feeds electricity to the motor, reports TreeHugger. Inside the MFC, bacteria are broken down into carbon dioxide, protons, and electrons which the fuel cell uses to generate electricity.

When the robot ingests some of the water it is floating on, the fuel cell generates electricity from the bacteria in the water. This provides enough energy for a few strokes of the paddle. As it moves across the water, more water is taken into its “stomach” and the process repeats. This allows the Row-bot to glide around the water continuously.



Parts for the Row-bot were created using a 3D printer.

Researchers are now seeking to improve the design by adding monitoring and control systems that will allow the robot to be used for environmental sensing and clean-up projects. In the future, Row-bots might be deployed in bodies of water to monitor for pollution or pathogens. Outfitted with the right tools, immediate steps could then be taken to remove pollutants from the water.

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