Editorial Feature

Environmentally Friendly Robots

Technology is progressing massively especially in the field of robotics. Robots presently manage a number of monotonous tasks in manufacturing lines as well as hazardous tasks such as bomb- disposal. In the future, they may assume roles in many different types of industries. As robotics begin to play a larger part across the world and wihtin our own lives, we need to consider the environmental impact.

Robots are made up of plastics and metals most of which can be toxic and cannot be decomposed. If all these robots end up in landfills, the impact could be massive.

Biodegradable Robot

Two British researchers, Dr. Jonathan Rossiter and Dr Ionnis Ieropoulos from the University of Bristol, have been conducting a two year research plan, 'A robot that decomposes: towards biodegradable robotic organisms'. They are based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), who mainly focus on developing autonomous robot systems.

One way to ensure that robots have 'little or no' impact on the environment, would be to construct a robot from biodegradable materials so they decompose into the earth once they have fulfilled their function.

Rossiter stated that their aim is to create a biodegradable robot. A robot which after 'completion of its mission' will decompose into harmless material. The 'mission' could be anything such as a large scale oil spill clean up.

The use of eco-friendly, alternative materials to build robots could remove some of the barriers associated with robotic innovation. There wouldn't be the necessity to monitor and recover each robot, so deploying any number of biodegradable robots into the environment could be a viable option.

The Ecobot is an independent robot that receives its energy by consuming biomass from the environment. Scientists at the BRL have actually been able to design a robot that can ingest organic material in its environment converting it into usable energy.

The 2003 model of EcoBot comprised of a microbial fuel cell which was powered by E. coli bacteria that ingested refined sugar. The 2005 EcoBot model harnessed sludge microbes to decompose prawn shells, dead flies and rotten apples. NASA has already expressed its interest in the EcoBot for manned expeditions to mars. The EcoBot-III can scan its environment for consumable organic matter and can also discharge waste matter so that it does not impact the robot in any way. It requires a specific charging period before performing its functions. Power seems to be a limiting factor, but the EcoBot team believes that future EcoBot models can be more compact and have more power.

Robots Performing Environment-Friendly Activities

Robotics is going to get more and more prminet, and as with every other technology and industry, it has to consider the environmental impact. There is a need for robots with self-sufficient energy without the need for batteries. It is important that the robots begin to use non-conventional energy sources like solar and water power.


Leaks in water pipes cause a large amount of fresh drinking water being wasted. Continuous work is impossible to track and would cost money in manpower. The TubeBot is a robot employed in Berlin and is capable of detecting any breach in the pipe. It is capable of generating electricity using water pressure and is programmed to scan the whole pipe with the results being sent back wirelessly. It can detect the location of any leaks so they can be easily repaired.

Benthic Rover

Researchers at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute use the Benthic rover to survey the seabed to collect data on environmental conditions. By capturing photographs and measuring conditions such as oxygen levels, this robot will enable scientists to understand how ocean warming is affecting ecosystems.

Solar Powered Robot SeaSwarm Technology

Researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab presented a model based on SeaSwarm technology. The cost of the project is around $200 million. A solar powered conveyor belt approximately 16 ft in length is made from oil slurping wire mesh. The material can isolate and absorb 20 times its own weight in oil. Several devices are made to coordinate using wireless technology such as GPS.

Methanol Fuel Cell Powered Weeding Robot

This robot is aimed at making the weeding process easy and environmentally friendly. It runs on methanol fuel cell and navigation is taken care of by a GPS. The robot uses digital image recognition to differentiate between the plant and the weed. It also includes a rotating tool that is used for cutting weeds. Energy is used efficiently and weeds are cut with maximum accuracy.

Tree Planting Robot

The planting of trees is still done manually. This 'tree planting' robot is an eco-friendly, four-legged machine equipped with a planting head and arm and can plant seedlings. It is equipped with a protective barrier made with biodegradable plastic and also protects the seedlings from bugs. The engine of the robot is steam-based and is fueled with forest wastes. The seedlings are loaded in the planting head by a revolving cartridge. The seedlings are planted in a specific pattern. The robot is efficient and flexible. It is capable of automatic refilling and refueling.


It is clear that robots are going to be a huge part of our lives but like every other technology and industry the environment has to be considered. We are on the right path trying to create biodegradable robots so that they do not end up in landfills and prove hazardous to the environment. So in both ways, the future of robotics seems to be going in the right direction and will be powered by alternative energy sources.

Sources and Further Reading

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.


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