Future robots powered by pee? Urine luck!

How to power robots that go where humans fear to tread? A new device works like an artificial heart to pump pee into the "engine room" of self-sustaining bots.

University of the West of England

There's that old saying that goes, "It's better to be pissed off than pissed on." That is, unless you're a robot.

Researchers from the UK have created a device that works like an artificial heart to pump urine into a microbial fuel cell that would power robots, making it possible for them to turn the waste into electricity.

"In the future, we hope the robots might be used in city environments for remote sensing," where they could help to monitor pollution, temperature, humidity, and waste water quality, said Peter Walters, an industrial designer at the University of the West of England and lead author of the study that appears in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

"In the city environment, they could recharge using urine from urinals in public lavatories," Walters added. "In rural environments, liquid waste effluent could be collected from farms."

Walters and his colleagues at the University of Bristol, home of the pooping robot, have already built four generations of self-sustaining robots called EcoBots that run off of everything from dead insects to sewer sludge. Powered by microorganisms like those dwelling in sewers, the microbes eat the waste and then produce electrons that can be collected as electricity.

The team now has built a device made from artificial muscles that not only have the ability to make cadavers blink, but can pump human urine into the robots' microbial fuel cells like a heart pumps blood through the body. If that doesn't sound weird enough for you, the pump is also constructed from shape memory alloys "which remember their shape after being deformed."

Terminator references aside, these robots could turn our waste products into a new energy source once the pump is enhanced to take on large quantities. As Discovery News notes:

While the new pump does produce more electricity than it consumes (since some of the electricity comes from urine that's converted to electrons), it's still not extremely efficient. The researchers hope to improve the pump's efficiency for use in future generations of the EcoBot.

So don't worry about having to awkwardly share a bathroom stall with a robot yet.