First step towards man-eating robot

Be very afraid: scientists have invented the first organically powered robot, writes Robert Mendick. To put it another way, Chew Chew, the "gastrobot", has discarded bytes in favour of bites.

Be very afraid: scientists have invented the first organically powered robot, writes Robert Mendick. To put it another way, Chew Chew, the "gastrobot", has discarded bytes in favour of bites.

The robot, which will be publicly unveiled next month at a robotics conference in Hawaii, should not send too many onlookers running for their lives. It is yet to develop a taste for meat, although Stuart Wilkinson, its inventor, admits that would be its ideal fuel.

Dr Wilkinson promises Chew Chew will remain strictly vegetarian. "Otherwise they'll notice there's an awful lot of humans running around and try to eat them," he said.

Chew Chew, which looks more like Thomas the Tank Engine than the Terminator, contents itself, for now, with a diet of sugar cubes and E.coli bacteria .The sugar is broken down by enzymes produced by the bacteria to release electrons which charge up a battery that makes the gastrobot move.

Dr Wilkinson said Chew Chew's inner workings are analogous to the human system of respiration but, instead of blood carrying oxygen, the sugar cubes produce electrons.

The gastrobot's most likely application at this stage will be as an automated lawnmower, feeding off grass cuttings. "At the moment we have to feed it like a baby because it doesn't have any arms or legs," Dr Wilkinson, of the University of South Florida, told New Scientist. But the long-term goal is to develop autonomous robots that can feed themselves.

Chew Chew has the advantage of producing little waste, just carbon dioxide and water, but once it moves on to a meat or vegetarian diet, the lavatorial repercussions could be truly bionic.

Comments