Comment »Posted on Sunday 28 June 2009 at 2:25 pm by Sam Wong
In Inventions & Technology

This is just awesome. Maverick designers James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau have built a collection of robotic furniture that generates its own energy by catching and digesting vermin. No, really.

This picture shows an LCD clock with a strip of flypaper on a roller. At the bottom of the roller,a blade scrapes the flies off and they fall into a microbial fuel cell, to be digested by bacteria to yield energy.

Image: Auger-Loizeau

This lamp lures flies with ultraviolet LEDs, then traps them like a pitcher plant.

Image: Auger-Loizeau

This wall-mounted robot is designed to encourage flies to build webs on it. A camera detects when a fly gets caught, then when the fly stops moving, a robotic arm nabs it from under the spider’s nose.

Image: Auger-Loizeau

Its energy needs are supplemented by the UV fly-killer depicted below.

Most gory of all is this innocuous-looking coffee table. In the centre is a trapdoor on which crumbs can be set as bait. One of the table legs is hollow, and mice can crawl up the inside. Infra-red motion sensors detect when a mouse walks onto the trapdoor, and send it tumbling into the fuel cell below. All it’s missing is the ability to emit a Bond-villain style evil laugh as the rodent is slowly devoured.

Sadly, as far as I’m aware, Ikea have no plans to sell flat-pack versions of any of these items.

The robots were inspired by was designed by the Ecobot, an energetically autonomous robot designed by Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Ecobot uses sewage to attract insects into its microbial fuel cell, where they get digested by sludge bacteria. As the bacteria metabolise the sugars yielded from breaking down the robot’s prey, electrons are released, which can be harnessed to generate an electric current. You can get your own, yeast-based microbial fuel cell from the National Centre for Biology Education at Reading University.

A brief glance at Bristol Robotics Laboratory’s website reveals that they’re working on numerous fascinating biology-inspired projects, like robots that can sense their surroundings with rodent-like whiskers, robots that can keep their vision focused on something while moving (by mimicking the vestibulo-ocular reflex) and flying robots that can save energy by soaring like albatrosses. But I can’t help getting the impression that these people are hell-bent on bringing about humanity’s destruction at the mechanical hands of robots. Some of the other projects that they’re working on are robots with the ability to heal themselves, robots that can work as a team to find food, and even robots that can develop their own culture. A project they’re involved in called SYMBRION ‘may lead not only to extremely adaptive, evolvable and scalable robotic systems, but might also enable the robot organisms to reprogram themselves without human supervision; to develop their own cognitive structures and, finally, to allow new functionality to emerge: the most suitable for the given situation.’ And there I was thinking that Terminator was far-fetched.

If you think BRL’s projects are wacky, wait until you see Auger and Loizeau’s previous work. Their website catalogues an array of mind-bogglingly bizarre projects, all aiming to offer ‘services that contrast and question current design ideology’, and ‘instigate a broader analysis of what it means to exist in a technology rich environment and its cultural implications for the present and the near future.’

The interstitial space helmet is like a digital burka that brings to reality Susan Greenfield‘s nightmare scenario in which nobody interacts face-to-face and all interaction is mediated through telecommunications devices. Social tele-presence is a system that allows the user to effectively occupy someone else’s body, or even a dog’s. The subliminal watch is a device for those too lazy to look at their wrist and instead want the time zapped into them through electric shocks. The isophone aims to make phone calls a fully immersive experience by enclosing the user’s head in a digital helmet while the rest of their body floats in water.

Ramping up the ridiculousness yet further, we have digitised banality, a series of products that revel in their own pointlessness: a device that counts ripples in a lake, an electronic leaf that alerts its owner when it falls off a tree, and a chair that records an ever-increasing total of all the weight it has ever borne. Best of all is a range of inventions designed to aid animals, including an aquatic stealth jacket for whales, an acorn positioning system for squirrels, and ‘omnivore dentures’ that allow big cats to munch on vegetable matter.

Who says technology has to be useful? I think this stuff’s bloody brilliant.

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