Robotic furniture that eat vermin, like mice and flies, are a part of a design project at the Royal College of Art, London.
Designer James Auger is exploring a new breed of domestic robots that he says can sit comfortably at an intersection of products and pets. While some may balk at the morbid aspect of his creations, his aim is to "define various robot 'raison d'etre'; the roles, behaviours, interactions and forms that might enhance their chances of securing a place in the human home."
New Scientist reports that Auger built five domestic robots with the help of long time collaborator and fellow designer Jimmy Loizeau. "Each can sense its environment, has mechanical moving parts, and can perform basic services for its human hosts, such as telling the time or lighting a room." You can see all the carniverous robots in a photo gallery.
Robotic Lampshade from Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robot Series (Credit: James Auger)
The robots gain energy by luring in pests that are digested by an internal microbial fuel cell. According to New Scientist this exploits the way microbes generate free electrons and hydrogen ions when oxidizing chemicals for energy. Electronics can be powered by directing the electrons around an external circuit before reuniting them with the ions. The idea of using vermin as fuel was inspired by researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab, UK. They already developed a fly-powered robot in '04 and have also suggested that marine robots could feed on plankton. The robots are not self-sufficient as of yet, so still need connection to the grid.
Here's another one of Auger's quotes from the article:
"As soon as there is a predatory robot in the room the scene becomes loaded with potential. A fly buzzing around the window suddenly becomes an actor in a live game of life, as the viewer half wills it towards the robot and half hopes for it to escape."
On the project website, Auger says that there's a huge disparity between the potential that robots exhibit in science fiction and our imaginations; the contemporary reality of robots (i.e. lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners, pet dogs) and the vision of robots as seen through the eyes of computer scientists and engineers. His work is intended to help mitigate this disparity.