Robot plant powered by polluted water

Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza's "Nomadic Plants" are roving robots powered by industrial waste.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak

Laboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre

What happens when robots go green? Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza has created a provocative "Planta Nomada, or Nomadic Plant"--a machine-plant hybrid that carries plants and microorganisms from the famously polluted Lerma Santiago River in Mexico that convert waterborne elements into electrical energy.

A close-up of Esparza's Planta Nomada. Click for a larger view. Gilberto Esparza

The creation is designed to be a multi-legged, autonomous robot powered by a microbial fuel cell. When the microorganisms it's carrying need nourishment, the robot is supposedly able to move toward water, suck it through a tube, and convert it to electricity, with part of the water feeding the onboard plants. But looking at its locomotion system, I doubt whether it would be able to descend a riverbank without falling into the drink.

The quirky machine--on display through May 24 at the LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijon, Spain--seems more of a statement about conservation than a rugged, autonomous robot.

LABoral calls the Nomadic Plant "a metaphor for the alienated human condition and the impact its activity has on nature. The work is ongoing experimentation hoping to instigate critical reflections on the ambiguity of the force wielded by technology." I think of it as a robot version of Swamp Thing, though.

See more photos of the robot's development here.

Planta Nomada
Artist Gilberto Esparza works on his multi-legged, autonomous Nomadic Plant. Gilberto Esparza

(Via We Make Money Not Art)