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Energetically autonomous robots: Food for thought

Melhuish, Chris; Ieropoulos, Ioannis; Greenman, John; Horsfield, Ian


Chris Melhuish
Professor of Robotics & Autonomous Systems

Ian Horsfield


This paper reports on the robot EcoBot-II, which is designed to power itself solely by converting unrefined insect biomass into useful energy using on-board microbial fuel cells with oxygen cathodes. In bench experiments different 'fuels' (sugar, fruit and dead flies) were explored in the microbial fuel cell system and their efficiency of conversion to electricity is compared with the maximum available energy calculated from bomb calorimetry trials. In endurance tests EcoBot-II was able to run for 12 days while carrying out phototaxis, temperature sensing and radio transmission of sensed data approximately every 14 min. © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2006.


Melhuish, C., Ieropoulos, I., Greenman, J., & Horsfield, I. (2006). Energetically autonomous robots: Food for thought. Autonomous Robots, 21(3), 187-198.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Nov 1, 2006
Journal Autonomous Robots
Print ISSN 0929-5593
Publisher Springer (part of Springer Nature)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Issue 3
Pages 187-198
Keywords artificial autonomy, energy autonomy, pulsed behaviour, microbial fuel cells, oxygen cathode
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This paper was considered as 'ground breaking' by one of the referees. The paper described the first robot to employ only biomass for power (ie no other fuel/energy sources). This has led to further research in action selection theory, energy balancing in hybrid machines. Industry (including Microsoft futures R&D) have expressed interest in developing the technology. This publication attracted the national and international media. Ideas developed became elements of a successful EU FP-6 funding application for £250,000 with a duration of 3 years. The paper is used in the teaching of robotics degree courses and the work will form part of a chapter of a US authored book reviewing MFCs.