We come in peace

Atari slot machines

A robot that eats flies

Roboticists these days are getting really good at producing tiny, autonomous ‘bots that can wander around for months — monitoring environments, sensing environmental change, or even doing spy work. We’ve got excellent A.I. for guiding the ‘bots, and cheap parts to make them with. The one problem left? Energy. It’s hard to build a battery that will power a mobile object for months, and harvesting solar energy is too inefficient and unreliable for ‘bot that will be trudging along through the mud. This is why live creatures are so wonderfully robust: We eat food and convert it into energy in a terrifically efficient manner. Isn’t there some way to get robots to do that?

Well — yes there is. A bunch of British scientists have been developing “Ecobot II”, a 22-cm robot that contains eight “microbial food cells” that convert sucrose to energy (PDF about it here). And where do you find sucrose when your ‘bot is wandering through, oh, the Arizona desert, or maybe the ruins of Sarajevo? What does a robot eat?

Flies. Ew. Yes. According to MSNBC, the scientists plan to make the robot stink like rotting flesh so that it attracts flies, kills them, and messily devours ‘em. As one of the scientists noted:

“One of the great things about flies is that you can get them to come to you,” he said.

Of course, you can see where this is headed: Legions of enormous battlebots that gain self-awareness and begin ripping off our arms to feed their insatiable apetite for energy. Christ almighty. When the hell did The Matrix become a reliable predictor of our future?

(Thanks to Rick for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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