3D-Printed Heart Uses Urine to Power Robot (Seriously)

Fri, 12/06/2013 - 10:44am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor, ECN

In the buzzword story of the year, researchers at the University of the West of England created a 3D-printed robot heart that runs on urine. That’s right, a printed organ that pumps pee through a robot. 

This hot topic cornucopia was actually the result of a theory that urine was capable of making electricity. The 3D printed heart comes into the picture because researchers used the device to mimic the squeezing action of a human heart in their “EcoBots.” The 24.5 ml volume heart pumps the urine into a microbial fuel cell, which is full of live microorganisms that digest the waste and product electrons. The electrons are used then used to charge a capacitor to power the robots. In fact, when the researchers put together the power of 24 fuel cells they produced enough electricity to trigger contractions of the artificial heart. The pump itself is created from shape memory alloys, which is a smart material that remembers its shape after being deformed. The whole system creates a self-sustaining robot called the Ecobot IV.

Though the research is still in the early stages, the switch to urine means a lessened likelihood of clogged systems than with other waste options like rotten fruits and veggies or wastewater. Plus, urine is what the researchers call an “untapped resource.” So far the pump has been used to power mobile phone, LEDs, bench-top pumps, watches, fans and toy cars and now researchers are using it to power the Ecobot. The robots are designed to be useful during emergency situations, but could also be useful for environmental monitoring.


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