Photo by Paul Keller.

Okay, buckle up, because there’s a lot of poop in this story. The EcoBot, developed by Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the U.K., can collect its own material for its microbial fuel cells, then dump leftover waste at the end of the day. That means it can eat poop and also it can poop, and I swear this is not only important as fodder for jokes by 12-year-olds and Grist List editors. It’s also an important step towards self-sustaining machines.

EcoBot-III, the lab’s most recent venture, can forage for its own fuel, which can be basically any kind of organic matter, even the gross stuff.

“Robots that eat biological fuels could find enough fuel almost anywhere,” said John Greenman, a microbiologist at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a joint venture between the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol. “There is organic matter anywhere on Earth — leaves and soil in the forest, or even human waste such as urine and feces.”

Like any energy source, though, organic matter generates some unusable byproducts. EcoBot-III’s microbial fuel cell could get swamped by its own waste if it didn’t have a way of evacuating it. So it’s built to handle the waste in the same way a cat does:

“EcoBot-III is a robot that collects its own food and water from the environment,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos, a roboticist at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). “It performs the task we design it to do, and at the end of the day, it gets rid of its own waste. It literally craps into its own ‘litter’ tray.”

EcoBot-III is still in its infancy, by which I mean it literally only eats and poops. But with this technology, robots that actually do stuff might someday be able power themselves on organic waste — potentially doing useful tasks and cleaning up sewage simultaneously. And they’d be able to do it almost indefinitely:

“We know MFCs will last as long as they’re fed; there’s nothing mechanical to go wrong with them,” Greenman told InnovationNewsDaily. “They could go 20 or 30 years. As long as the microbes grow, they can keep going.”