Researchers in the UK have created a 3D printed robotic heart that uses urine as its fuel source.
While many might be repulsed by the idea of a heart that pumps urine, have no fear – the robotic heart is designed for use in robots, not humans.
In a paper published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) detail how their robotic heart will use microbial fuel cells to generate energy from urine.
According to the paper, the heart’s microbial fuel cell can function completely autonomously and convert waste to energy by leveraging the appetite of live microbes. Once the microbes come into contact with urine they begin consuming waste and the heart’s fuel cell starts converting bio-chemical energy into electricity.
Although BRL’s fuel cell has only been capable of converting energy at a 0.11% efficiency rate, researchers were able to charge the heart’s 3.5 volt battery on a mere 2ml of waste. From that charge the artificial heart was able to beat 33 consecutive times, not nearly enough for a lifetime, but still an impressive start.
Beyond it’s microbial fuel cell, the robotic heart is also engineered to use smart materials that behave similar to the muscles in a human heart. Using flexible materials, nickel-titanium “muscle fibers” and rubber balls for valves, the robotic heart accurately simulated the movement of a human heart.
According to BRL, the heart’s rigid components were directly printed while its flexible materials were cast in silicone from 3D printed molds.
While still in the early stages of development, BRL roboticists see a future where “energetically autonomous robots” will be capable of powering themselves from the abundant waste every human creates.
Image Courtesy of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory