Dec.1, 2013

Scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK announced they had successful built the first artificial muscle-driven prototype robotic "heart" powered by microbial fuel cells (MFCs) fed on human urine, and created with a 3D printer.

This biologically inspired pump, based on physical principles derived from the structure and function of the heart is still under development. The scientists demonstrated that the actuator performed 33 consecutive actuations with just 2 ml of fresh urine and its ability to charge up to 3.5 volt.

The goal of research was not to create a prosthetic device for use in human or animal patients, but to develop a biologically inspired pump for future generations of energetically autonomous robots ('EcoBots') which function completely on its own by collecting waste and converting it into electricity. The robotic heart uses microbial fuel cell technology which makes use of the ability of live microbes to digest organic feedstock within an electrochemical cell to convert bio-chemical energy into electricity. EcoBots employ MFCs to generate the energy needed for their function, and can perform useful tasks, which include locomotion, environmental sensing and wireless communication with a remote base station.

The device has been tested and the results demonstrate the potential for the artificial heartbeat actuator, though scientists also admit that an energy conversion efficiency of 0.11 percent "appears very low." But still, this is "the first 'proof-of-concept' prototype of its kind, and as yet no effort has been made to investigate how it might be improved to give greater efficiency." notes the scientists.

Illustration and photo of the artificial heartbeat actuator. The compressible region is made from silicone cast in 3D printed molds. Credit: Walters, et al. Centre for Fine Print Research and Bristol Robotics Laboratory ©2013 IOP Publishing Ltd

In their invesigation scientists bring together research in design, 3D printing, smart materials and energetically autonomous robotics. In the fabrication of the first 'artificial heartbeat' actuator prototype, scientists employed 3D printing, photopolymer jetting from Stratasys, to create the rigid structural and mechanical components. The hollow body and lid of the actuator were created in Objet Fullcure 720 rigid 3D printing resin. The same 3D printing process and material was used to fabricate a mould into which a silicone elastomer was cast to create the soft, compressible region.

In a second version scientists used the soft, rubber-like 3D printing material TangoPlus from Stratasys. Creating soft elastomer components directly by 3D printing in this way has the advantage of eliminating the mould-making and casting stages from the prototyping process.

Scientists have created four generations of EcoBots in the past 10 years, each of which is powered by electricity-generating microbial fuel cells that employ live microorganisms to digest waste organic matter and generate low-level power.

The group received $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their work. And their future research will focus on improving the efficiency of the device, and investigating how it might be incorporated into the next generation of MFC-powered robots.


Source: IOP Science via

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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