Sustainable energy and machinic life are combined in this contemplative robotic art installation.
Loosely inspired by mud beetles, the Mudbots are small robots that get their power from microbes. They push a ball of dry clay in front of them.
Bacteria, electronics and mechanics work together, granting the Mudbots a sort of biotechnological life.
The concept is that the activity of the Mudbots, although intermittent and slow, makes visible the power of micro-organisms in a totally off-grid system.
Mudbots follow on experiments with microbial fuel cells, started with bio-engineer Michka Melo in 2017.
Each Mudbot carries a microbial fuel cell that generates power by capturing the electrons released by bacteria contained in the mud. The power of such batteries being very small, the robots do not move continuously. Instead, a storage unit gradually collects the electrons generated by the bacteria. When enough electricity is available, the storage unit discharges into the circuit and the robot moves while beeping and flashing. The robot stops when the energy is spent, the cycle starts again.
Dependent on temperature, humidity and mud characteristics, the Mudbots should move a few centimeters per day. A hand-powered dynamo is also provided, allowing humans to contribute to the robots’ motion.
The Mudbots were commissioned by Azkuna Zentroa Art Gallery, Bilbao, Spain for an exhibition of robotic art titled Y Las Cosas Que Hacemos (And The Things We Do) that took place from June to September 2018.
Eleven Mudbots were made. There were issues with the stability and durability of the microbial fuel cells, yet unresolved, that made the robots depend heavily on human cranking.
The battery unit and the ball pusher part are made of 3D-printed clay, produced at Jetclay. The motion of the robots is provided by a single motor and wheel. They only can go straight. When the robots detect a black line on the floor, they stop, having reached destination. They are manually taken back to the starting point and given a new ball to push. A time-lapse camera captures the Mudbots’ slow motion and continuously plays the footage on a monitor.