The public’s fear of robots feeding on humans is unwarranted, according to Harry Schoell, CEO of Cyclone Power Technologies, one of the companies behind the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR). Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the EATR was designed to support long-range operations that require extreme endurance. However, its designers stress that it can also be used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition or casualty extraction.
The robot is powered by “fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings, and wood chips”, plant-based materials, and not corpses. The use of corpses is specifically forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The EATR project began in 2003 and is a collaboration between Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology, Inc. The goal of the project is to create a robot that can provide material support to units requiring intensive labor or just by carrying the unit’s packs.
The second phase of the project will have the engine determine which materials are suitable for conversion into fuel, locate those materials, and then ingest them. This means that the machine will learn to identify and ingest materials on its own. The final phase will determine the military or civilian applications of such a self-sustaining robot and where such a system can be successfully installed.
Despite the public’s concerns, the EATR project is not designed to feed on humans, but rather to provide a new, sustainable source of fuel for robotic technology. The ability for a robot to sustain itself by consuming plant-based materials could have far-reaching implications for both military and civilian applications. Imagine robots being able to conduct long-term missions without the need for resupply, or being able to assist in disaster relief efforts without the need for constant refueling. The EATR project is a significant step towards achieving these goals.
As of April 2009, RTI estimated that 150 pounds of biofuel vegetation could provide sufficient energy to drive the vehicle 100 miles. The EATR project is a promising development that has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about powering robots. With the ability to identify and consume suitable materials, the EATR could pave the way for a new generation of autonomous, self-sustaining robots.