News Feature | November 20, 2015

Row-Bot Cleans Polluted Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The future of clean water may reside in the hands of beetle-shaped robots.

“The latest novel and potentially revolutionary use of robotic technology comes from Bristol University in the U.K., where academics have developed the Row-bot: place it in water and the little machine can clean up pollution and generate electricity from it at the same time,” ScienceAlert reported.

The device floats on the surface of the water, gaining energy from bacteria.

“The Row-bot consists of two main elements — a propulsion mechanism to move the Row-bot around using a paddle operated by a minuscule 0.75 Watt, brushed DC motor, and its ‘stomach,’ where a microbial fuel cell (MFC) supplies the electric current to the motor powering the paddle,” Gizmag reported.

“Because Row-Bot produces power from dirty water, it can go on moving and swimming for as long as there's cleaning to do, and it could one day be a hugely useful tool in the fight to limit our impact on the environment around us,” ScienceAlert reported.

The inventors showcased their technology in a paper presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

“The results show the potential for the combination of the energy generation and actuation subsystems in an energetically autonomous robot. Therefore, next stage in this work is the direct integration of these subsystems with the addition of switching circuitry also powered by the microbial fuel cell. The resulting Row-bot can be developed for applications such as remote sensing and environmental monitoring and cleanup,” the report said.

The water boatman beetle was the inspiration for the design since the insect has “legs covered by hairs to maximize surface area during the power stroke and which collapse to minimize drag during the recovery stroke. So, too, the design of the Row-bot's paddles alter to maximize efficiency,” Gizmag reported.

The technology remains a ways away. “It's going to be a while before the Row-bot is deployed to clean up sewage pollution but it's a promising development in autonomous robotics that can refuel themselves rather than having us do it for them. The same concept could eventually be used for robots moving on land and through the air too,” the ScienceAlert reported.