Engineered by researchers at the University of Bristol in 2017, the Row-bot is a swimming machine that converts pollution into energy for its own fuel. Containing a microbial fuel cell as a “stomach”, the Row-bot ingests microbes from water pollution, which are then digested and converted to energy, powering both the propulsion and paddles through the motor. Due to its ability to self-power, the Row-bot can operate months on end, creating more energy than it consumes. The Row-bots would primarily focus on chemical pollution such as oil and agricultural runoff. The aim is for Row-bots to remove anthropogenic chemicals from waterways before they end up in larger bodies of water causing algal blooms and disruption of ecosystems. Given the autonomous nature of the Row-bot, researchers would deploy them and leave them to work until they can no longer function; therefore, the major drawback of the current Row-bot iteration is that they are not biodegradable, adding to the problem of water pollution. Since the current Row-bots do have toxic chemicals within their motorized parts, such autonomy cannot be granted until a biodegradable Row-bot is developed. For now, the Row-bots must be tracked and collected, limiting their ability to be deployed in large numbers. Once an eco-friendly Row-bot is ready to go, developers hope to task thousands —or even millions— of them to clean up polluted waterways across the world.

Philamore, H., Rossiter, J., Stinchcombe, A., & Ieropoulos, I. (2015, September). “Row-bot: An energetically autonomous artificial water boatman“.


Artificial Life, Industry/Natural Commodities, Pollution