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Robotics Technology

Smart Robot Capable of Hunting For Its Own "Food" 191

Posted by Soulskill
from the note-to-robots-i-am-not-food dept.
coondoggie writes "Ok, maybe this is getting a little too close to bringing Terminator-like robots to life. For starters, eco-friendly engine builder Cyclone Power this week inked a contract from Robotic Technologies, Inc. (RTI) to develop what it calls a beta biomass engine system that will be the heart of RTI's Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR). The purpose of EATR is to develop and demonstrate an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling — in other words it needs to 'eat.' According to researchers, the EATR system gets its energy by foraging, or what the firms describe as 'engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable.'" We can only hope they don't team up with the Multi-Robot Pursuit System project to "search for and detect a non-cooperative human."
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Smart Robot Capable of Hunting For Its Own "Food"

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  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:34AM (#26652917)

    Ok, maybe this is getting a little too close to bringing Terminator-like robots to life.

    No, too-Terminator-like would be if it said, "You are not Sarah Connor. But I am a bit peckish...."

    • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:42AM (#26653023) Journal

      Come on... look on the bright side. Instead of your child getting blown apart by a land mine left over from the last invasion, they can get blown apart by a hunter-killer drone. That's WAY cooler.

      Reminds me of Stephen King's The Dark Tower... maybe they could dress it up like a bear...

    • I am weary, and their deaths will bring me little joy.

      Of course, sometimes, a little is enough.

      Then again, that was a vampire...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by memnock (466995)

      ... more like The Matrix.

      • by nizo (81281) *

        Except since it has a chainsaw, we would be more like cordwood than batteries to this thing.

    • Oh shoot! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bovius (1243040) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @11:21AM (#26654431)

      Quote from article, emphasis added:

      ...the EATR robot's inherent advantage is its ability to engage in long-endurance, tedious, and hazardous tasks, such as reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition under difficult conditions, without fatigue or stress...

      So we've got omnivorous assassin bots that consume their "target" after "acquisition" to remove evidence of the mission. That's just great.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by couchslug (175151)

        "So we've got omnivorous assassin bots that consume their "target" after "acquisition" to remove evidence of the mission. That's just great."

        "Whirrrr...click....BLAM!

        OM NOM NOM NOM.

        Sploot.

        Whirr...."

  • by wiredog (43288) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:34AM (#26652921) Journal

    may just have a point.

  • by ari_j (90255) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:35AM (#26652929)
    1. Am I "biomass"?
    2. Is my kitten, Fluffy, who likes to go outside, "biomass"?
    3. If I died in my home, would I then become "biomass"? In other words, will Fluffy have any competition for my corpse?
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      I assume you have question #1 there to see if fluffy has any competition for eating your non-corpse?

      Or maybe I'm the only one who's well fed cats want to eat him.

    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <[Satanicpuppy] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:48AM (#26653117) Journal

      1) Yes.
      2) Yes.
      3) Yes.

      I think the big limitation against a robot "eating" living things at this point is that the energy required in harvesting anything that moves is far in excess of the energy that the robot will be able to extract from it. Bound to be an inefficient process.

      In the long run, however, I think I'd be leery of giving them any sort of decision tree about whether or not "object A" is edible. Even discounting human.pet accidents, no one wants to wake up in the morning to find that a robot has eaten your picnic table.

      • by nizo (81281) * on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:02AM (#26653327) Homepage Journal

        ...that the energy required in harvesting anything that moves is far in excess of the energy that the robot will be able to extract from it.

        Tell that to every ambush predator on the planet. As an added bonus, I bet the standby mode on the robot burns less energy than most waiting ambush predators too.

        "Hey, is that a new trashcan outside the Dunkin Donuts? Huh I think it moved....WAARGHHHHHHH...."

        • It's still probably better to grab a big resin-filled chunk of a pine tree than to try and render down Fluffy for biodiesel, but I take your point.

          The odds of Fluffy wandering by are a bit higher than a chunk of pine tree wandering by.

          • by nizo (81281) *

            The odds of Fluffy wandering by are a bit higher than a chunk of pine tree wandering by.

            Especially after all the pine trees are gone, hacked down by a horde of these robots.

            On the upside something like this could be hella disruptive in an enemy city. Throw in a magnetic rail gun and a way to recycle random metal into ball bearings and we are all screwed.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Ambush predators eat stuff - and get nutrients and energy from it.

          This thing burns stuff. Which seems better efficiency wise - ambush a deer and burn it or cut down a tree and burn it?

          • How do you think we get the energy from it?

            Hint: Fire uses oxygen and "nutrients".
            We use oxygen and nutrients too.

            Yes, that's basically how it works. We burn (oxidize) stuff too. Only on a very small scale.

            • by nedlohs (1335013)

              Yes, but biological processes are a tad different than just burning it.

              And no fire does not use nutrients. Well OK, not as I was using the term, micro nutrients would be more correct but when comparing with burning stuff I thought that was obvious. The other things in meat (and plant matter, and dirt for that matter) like minerals and vitamins that don't contribute to energy but are a necessary part of surviving. When you burn something you don't give a shit if it has iron or calcium in it.

              When wood is avai

        • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @01:11PM (#26656067)

          I imagine a robot that can eat biomass would do pretty well as a trashcan outside Dunkin Donuts anyway. Lots of fat and sugar getting tossed in when the doughnuts go stale.

          Or McDonalds, for that matter.

      • Even discounting human.pet accidents, no one wants to wake up in the morning to find that a robot has eaten your picnic table.

        Or emptied your car of fuel...

      • ... no one wants to wake up in the morning to find that a robot has eaten your picnic table.

        I may have just found a new motto.

      • ...human.pet...

        Did anyone else try clicking on that?

      • by chord.wav (599850)

        How much energy can it take to spot someone, point and shoot the attached gun and crawl to it before other predators take the body?

        Future posts will be along the lines of: "..I remember when their first prototypes appeared, we joked about them"

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by MjDelves (811950)

        I think the big limitation against a robot "eating" living things at this point is that the energy required in harvesting anything that moves is far in excess of the energy that the robot will be able to extract from it. Bound to be an inefficient process.

        1. Attach an object-tracking device and a harpoon to it.

        2. Reel in the prey.

        3. Put prey in a big sealed container.

        4. Time/Standby mode.

        5. Lots of biogas.

        6. Dung heap.

        7. GOTO 1.

        Nothing to it.

    • I think a good use for one of these things would be to make one powered by dog shit. We could let them loose in parks and other places dog owners "walk" their turd machines. I know the lawn at the apartments I live at would benifit from something like this.
    • EATR on test sorte
      EATR: if(fuelLevel < 5){ initializeScanMode(identifyBioMass());}
      EATR spots child playing in yard with ball
      EATR: if(scanMode()== biomass)
      EATR: if(acquisitionBiomass == difficult) {intializeHinterKillerMode();}
      EATR: if(fuelLevel > 10) initializeSearchMode();
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ari_j (90255)
        Let's just hope they read xkcd [xkcd.com]:

        thisAlgorithmBecomingSkynetCost = 999999999;

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      If it decides against eating you or your cat, it will just siphon gas out of your car.

  • biomass to fuel? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by furby076 (1461805)
    So this thing can forage for biomass, which means it is not that picky...why can't we put this in our cars for fuel (ala Mr. Fusion - Back To the Future II)
    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <[Satanicpuppy] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:54AM (#26653203) Journal

      It's almost certainly wildly inefficient.

      That gasoline engine in your car is inefficient compared to a big power generator that uses the same fuel. The size, the inability to efficiently process the waste heat...It all adds up.

      Taking into account the returns of biomass plants that use high-grade biomass (e.g. corn, unprocessed chicken/pig parts, etc) and then taking into account the efficiency that will certainly be lost by reducing that process to something small enough to be mobile, and I'll be surprised if they can make it work at all.

      • by argent (18001)

        It's almost certainly wildly inefficient.

        Heat engines can be quite efficient. The problem is the heat exchanger has to be pretty big, so they tend to have lower power density... that is, a heat engine (say, a stirling engine) will be larger and heavier than an internal combustion engine of the same output.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          The problem is the heat exchanger has to be pretty big, so they tend to have lower power density... that is, a heat engine (say, a stirling engine) will be larger and heavier than an internal combustion engine of the same output.

          I disagree [nasa.gov].

          • by argent (18001)

            Where in that report is the comparison of the mass of the internal combustion engine and the stirling engine of the same power output?

            The only comparison I can see implies that the Mod-II equipped Celebrity has a higher curb weight than the original vehicle. It also (as I noted, but you didn't quote) has a high efficiency.

            Can you elaborate on whatever point you're making?

            • Re:biomass to fuel? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday January 29, 2009 @12:19PM (#26655265) Homepage Journal

              Can you elaborate on whatever point you're making?

              With two iterations they were able to make a vehicle more efficient than the original with superior performance.

              This implies to me that with another couple decades (just give it a small fraction of the time that's been spent on your classic ICE four-strokes) the technology could be refined to be a direct drop-in, in terms of mass. Materials technology has advanced significantly since those vehicles were put out as well. And finally, if they had produced a vehicle with the same overall performance characteristics of the original the powerplant would have been lighter - this was a prototype retrofit designed to determine the potential of the technology.

              My point was that using a heat engine does not necessarily have any drawbacks in common use whatsoever, including increased mass. That has only been the case so far.

              • by argent (18001)

                Well, of course you're going to get smaller heat engines over time. You're ALSO going to get smaller and lighter gasoline engines over time. And in fact between the '70s and the '90s gasoline engines HAVE gotten smaller and lighter.

                You're still not going to get rid of the need for a large and efficient radiator. For a given level of technology (similar materials, controllers, and so on) you're going to need a larger power plant to deliver the same amount of power. How much larger, I'm not going to speculate

    • by internerdj (1319281) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:28AM (#26653733)
      I misread your post and got the mental image of waking up, preparing for work, going to the garage and finding my car has wandered off in search of fuel because it "got hungry."
    • by redxxx (1194349)

      Well the thing generates 80 watts and weighs 6 lbs. Google seems to be of the opinion that 80 watts is 0.107281767 hp.

      Weight isn't going to scale up directly with power, but the thing need to generate about 100,000% more power than it does to be of much use in a car.

      That doesn't seem like it is going to necessarily be practical. Some other similar technology? Maybe, but not this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nedlohs (1335013)

      You can, and have been able to for over a century.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_car [wikipedia.org]

  • by parascott (962903) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:44AM (#26653061)
    I have visions of the energizer bunny as a mutant omnivore.

    It just keeps going, and going, and going.....
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:44AM (#26653067)
    Please don't give these abominations the ability to make replicas of themselves!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by benjamindees (441808)

      A few years back I thought about building an autonomous, self-replicating robot like this. My idea was that it would live in a museum, and people could feed it coins.

      Besides the coins, everything else would come from the immediate environment. It would forage for biomass as fuel. Once it had gathered enough fuel and coins, it would reproduce.

      It seemed like a feasible, if horribly complex, task. I thought it would make a nice open source project.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:46AM (#26653085)

    Limit the robots to a six foot power cord.

  • Well, obviously, all they need to do is invent a Mr Fusion! That should give them enough jiggawatts to run their precious doomsday machines =)

  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:46AM (#26653095)
    We can't even safely do an autonomous robot lawn mower that won't grind up the neighbor's cat.
  • Unstopable! (Score:4, Funny)

    by snspdaarf (1314399) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:49AM (#26653123)

    Great. This thing will siphon your fuel tank, and if that fails, threaten to eat your cat unless you hand over the charge card for the local service station.

    What will it do when it figures out WE are biomass?

  • Piss on Network World and their splash screen.

    here's the story: http://www.robotictechnologyinc.com/index.php/EATR [robotictechnologyinc.com]

  • Some prior art... (Score:2, Informative)

    by leipold (103074)

    ...from back in 2001 was UWE's Slugbot, which was supposed to 'live off the land' by finding and digesting agricultural pests:

    http://www.wired.com/gadgets/miscellaneous/news/2001/10/47156 [wired.com]

  • I don't want it to "...find, ingest, and extract energy" from MY biomass! I would look too much like a giant, high-energy, slow-moving fuel depot to it.

    Then again, if it didn't hurt too much ...

  • by i am calliope (1452699) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:56AM (#26653217)
    While there is the possibility of this giving life to Sci-Fi plots such as Dune, Terminator, and Battlestar, I can't help but think that the eating robot can do a lot to save us. What if this "biomass" were food scraps, animal feces, or some other waste product? Cow dung lets off mass amounts of methane that can then be burned. The eating robot could help decrease a need for landfills and decrease carbon in the atmosphere.
    • What if this "biomass" were food scraps, animal feces, or some other waste product?

      Paging John Waters... we have just the robot to star in your next movie.

      Really, the thought of a poop-eating robot roaming the streets is just... what's that you say? They already have these deployed in Japan?

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      While there is the possibility of this giving life to Sci-Fi plots such as Dune, Terminator, and Battlestar

      Let's see...

      Terminator, Robots rise up and try to kill us all, I see the connection.
      Battlestar, Robots rise up and try to kill us all, I see the connection.
      Dune, young boy takes refuge among oppressed natives and later uses them to defeat the emperor... I think I missed that one.

  • What would happen if you fed it a gallon of Olestra [wikipedia.org]? Talk about rear seal leakage!

  • by srussia (884021) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @09:58AM (#26653267)
    When can I get a Roomba that runs on nacho crumbs and spilled Mountain Dew?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smitty97 (995791)

      Technically the Roomba falls into this category.. Not with dust and dirt, but it does seek out its base station when it gets hungry for its EMF food

    • I'm not sure it would be worth it: coming home to a nice, clean home that smells like burning nachos....

  • RTFA, the thing has a freakin' chainsaw ! An eating robot with a chainsaw. Who would win the apocalypse war, the zombies or the robots ? We have the answer now, the robots obviously, they would saw through the zombies and eat them.

  • When you find holes punched in the gas tanks of your SUVs and the filling station has a hole drilled into the ground you can thank this project for all it's amazing innovations.

    However when you start missing shotgun shells and 9mm ammo from your gun locker... we're all in trouble.

  • by SL1200MKII (1263800) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:09AM (#26653411)
    "Cyclone brings to this project one of the most advanced external combustion engine technologies we have seen," stated Dr. Robert Finkelstein, President of RTI"

    Maybe it's just me but I find it a little worrying that this monster of a robot was created by Dr. Finkelstein

    It's alive Igor, It's Alive!!
  • Protection (Score:4, Funny)

    by ohnotherobots (1448571) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:11AM (#26653441)
    Fortunately my tinfoil hat will cause the robots to think I am not made of organic material.
  • Not a new idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:13AM (#26653463) Journal
    Although I've never seen anything exactly like this, I've personally built a BEAM robot [wikipedia.org] that foraged for its own "food". Instead of seeking biomass, or hydrocarbons, my little BEAM robot just looked for a light source to charge its capacitors through photovoltaic cells.
  • Are monkeys open source ?
  • Used to be, flesh-eating robots could eat only slugs [wired.com].

  • So if you have a robot that is powered by biomass that it seeks out, not all of that biomass is going to be able to be converted to energy. There's going to be a significant residue of inorganic material or material that is not able to be efficiently utilized.

    What I'm getting at is that the robot will have to poop. If it eats, it must poop. All things that eat poop, except, of course, for attractive women, who never do that.

    The next question is whether this means that the robot must he followed
    • by Angstroem (692547)

      What I'm getting at is that the robot will have to poop. If it eats, it must poop. All things that eat poop, except, of course, for attractive women, who never do that.

      Oh, just because the digestive system of the average animal is so inefficient, it doesn't mean that the robot needs to adhere to such ineffectivity.

      The entire amount of carbon contained in the food can be burned into CO2. No poop.

      What's left is some spurious stuff and water, so eventually the robot may have to pee, yes, or sweat, assuming

  • If a bird eats my tomatoes, or a deer the grass on my lawn, that's part of nature.

    If a robot eats my tomatoes, somebody is going to pay.

  • by NonUniqueNickname (1459477) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @10:52AM (#26654009)

    long-endurance missions such as search and rescue in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan

    Greetings person in Afghan cave.
    I am a robot.
    I am here to rescue you.
    *chainsaw*
    Stand still so I can rescue you.

  • Sun (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Thursday January 29, 2009 @11:33AM (#26654581)

    Wouldn't solar power be easier? Where there are enough things to eat to survive there is enough sun to survive. Though i suppose its neat.

  • NOM NOM NOM (Score:2, Funny)

    by Antlerbot (1419715)

    So I think I see a solution to the homeless problem coming up...

  • "engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like"

    aka ""

  • So this thing wanders around gathering its own firewood. How Neal-Stephensonian, a stream-powered terminator robot!

    But, really, any high school robot team should be able to make a robot that wanders around the mall, or wherever electrical outlets are pletiful, and plugs itself in to recharge. For extra credit you could make one that shoplifts batteries at Radio Shack.

  • 140 comments so far, and not one reference to Old Glory Robot Insurance? I bet a link to the video will make it in the first few posts on Fark.

    Hang your collective head in shame.

  • Ignoring the obvious RUR [wikipedia.org] ending to the EATR Robot Project; I think we may have the beginings of the "Mr. Energy" house hold applience. Take the wheeles off, install an outlet, and plug it into your home Energy Input Socket. Then say goodbye to PG&E, Edison, and SDG&E! Another side benefit is that the neighborhood will start to look cleaner as the folks start looking at trash as an energy source. It sounds goofy, but hook one of these things to a school, and start getting phone calls from school

  • Which biomass is easier to sniff out: live prey or corpses? Not to mention the catching part.

  • It's probably too late to work the idea into the coming movie.

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