Fly-eating robot takes first slow steps towards danger zone

A PREDATORY robot devised by British scientists could generate its own energy by catching and digesting flies.

Called EcoBot II, the creation is part of a drive to make "forget and release" robots that could be deployed into dangerous and inhospitable areas.

The new machine is being developed by a team of robotics experts at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol.

The EcoBot II will attract insects by emitting a stench concocted from human excrement.

The sewage will act as a bait to catch flies which the EcoBot II will digest in eight microbial fuel cells.

Bacteria from the sewage will break down the sugars in the polysaccharide which makes up a fly’s exoskeleton.

This process releases electrons which, in turn, will drive an electric current.

According to a report published in the New Scientist, the UWE team could use a bottleneck-style fly trap with a pump to suck flies into the digestion chambers of the robot. In its present stage of development, the EcoBot II is non-predatory.

Instead, it is manually fed with handfuls of dead bluebottles.

In tests, the robot travelled for five days on just eight fat flies.

However, its top speed at present does not even reach a slow crawl.

Chris Melhuish, part of the university’s robotics team, said: "Every 12 minutes, it gets enough energy to take a step forwards two centimetres and send a transmission back."

If successful, the new predatory robot could be used to carry out monitoring activities in areas made dangerous by extremes of temperature or poisonous gases.

The Bristol-based team’s previous attempts to create a carnivorous robot were not a success.

Called the Slugbot, the robot was designed to hunt slugs on farms which it would digest to produce methane gas.

It is hoped the new robot’s system of using sugar molecules for fuel will prove more effective than the slow methane system used by the Slugbot.

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