EARTH WEEK: Trash Technology – This Robot Eats Pollution


Ted Talks, Row-Bot
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In a Ted Talk conducted by Jonathan Rossiter, a Professor of Robotics and head of the Soft Robotics group at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Rossiter discusses the application of modern technologies to simulate the biological processes we observe in living organisms into robotics. One example of this new technology is demonstrated in Bristol’s ‘Row-bot’. Developed at Bristol and based on two living organisms’ natural bodily functions, the water boatman and the basking shark, the Row-bot is a miniature robot that generates electricity by consuming polluted water.

One of the most common sources of pollution in our waterways is caused by algae blooms. These blooms are the result of pollutive agricultural practices involving the use of fertilizers, nitrates, and pesticides. Rossiter cites the example that farmers utilize nitrates for intensive agricultural methods, which are often absorbed into the soil. When it rains, nitrate-polluted soil runs off into ponds, streams, rivers, and other water ways. Algae consumes these nitrates causing over-population and depletion of the oxygen levels in the water. Row-bot’s cutting edge technology enables this robot to consume these blooming algae for energy. This amazing invention takes advantage of modern technological advancements and creatively solves environmental issues that are plaguing our environment.

Another source of pollution that Rossiter cites is oil pollution. Crude oil becomes pollutive in the ocean from various sources such as boat engines, tankers, and leaking and dysfunctional pipelines. Rossiter explains that Row-bot is biologically programmed to consume crude oil, thus, reducing the amount of crude oil pollution in our oceans. This technology is simply amazing and can be viewed as a snapshot into what may lie in the future.

Row-bot, algae blooms
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How does this robot work exactly? The answer lies in the Row-bot’s biological processes. Rossiter explains that much like living organisms, the Row-bot has a brain, body, and stomach. These features allow the Row-bot to locate pollution with its brain. The body enables the Row-bot to travel to the pollution while the stomach treats the pollution. This pollution is treated through microbes that literally eat the pollution and excrete energy. This energy is converted into electricity that the Row-bot uses to move and operate.

Robot Eats Pollution
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We can do a lot to help clean up pollution with this generation’s research, innovation, and creativity. The possibilities are endless with the level of technology and information available to us in this generation. New technological advancements, such as the Row-bot, enable individuals to solve issues that may help save our increasingly polluted environment. Support for new technologies, like Rossiter’s Row-bot, can help spread this message further. For all of us looking to help save and protect our planet, the future is looking very bright indeed.

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