TECHNICALITIES

Biomass-consuming robot isn't 'Soylent Green' IT

Two companies working on a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently announced progress on a steam-powered robotic platform that could sustain itself on long missions in part by foraging for its own fuel. Cyclone Power Technologies said it has finished the first phase of a biomass engine for Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot.

EATR, which looks like a small, flat-topped tractor with a robotic arm in the front, would avoid manual refueling by ingesting and extracting energy from surrounding biomass, according to RTI. It could also use a variety of other fuels — from gasoline to cooking oil and solar power.

However, biomass is a broad term, and it didn’t take long for a few bloggers, Fox News and others to take the ball and run with it all the way to “flesh-eating robots.” Soon, stories were popping up about military robots feeding on corpses on the battlefield. Moral outrage ensued.

The companies assured everyone that EATR has always been intended to be a vegetarian — something that, knowing the wacky world of the Web, they probably should have been specific about in the first place.

So we’re safe from zombie robots for now. And instead of a sure sign of the apocalypse, we have the mundane commercial applications of EATR to look forward to. Someday it will mow your lawn by eating the grass.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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