The current obsession for the military robotics crowd appears to be solving the long-term fuelling issue – after all, your ‘bot isn’t much use if it has to return to base every six hours for a fresh battery (possibly leading the enemy to your emplacement in the process).
So, an autonomous robot needs to be able to forage for fuel; while the art world has gone so far as to produce robots that eat insects and animals, the military contractors are keeping things strictly vegetarian, designing the cutely-monikered EATR to graze like a sheep on biomass.
Robotic Technology of Potomac, Md., and Cyclone Power Technologies of Pompano Beach, Fla., have completed an initial stage in a collaboration that could lead to the world’s first grazing robot. The system would obtain energy by “engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior”–in other words, foraging and eating to keep itself going.
It’s a tall order. The robot will need to first identify a suitable biomass (wood, grass, paper, etc.) and avoid the indigestible (rocks, metal, or glass). It must spatially locate and manipulate the source; cut or shred to size, then use its robotic arm and “end effectors” to grab, lift and dump it into the furnace, where it will be ingested and converted to enough electrical energy to power the robots systems. This stage is taken care of by the Cyclone engine, a modern-day external combustion, steam engine that can run on virtually any fuel.
I wonder if there’ll be a desert variant designed to survive for long periods without any biomass – an electric camel, perhaps? Mash up the fuelling tech with that scary yet awesome Big Dog pack-animal bot and you’ve got a new ship of the desert that (hopefully) won’t spit at you when it’s in a bad mood… [via Technovelgy; image by David Masters]