EATR: A Robot That’ll Forage Its Own Fuel

The Pentagon is developing a new robot that can power itself with biomass–and, as Fox News gleefully conjectures, dead people.


Fuel can be scarce on the battlefield–and, given all the high-tech doodads that the Pentagon is investing in, that could be a huge problem. No wonder that its super-secret research arm, DARPA, is funding the development of a robot running on biomass that can forage for its own food.


As Fox News is happy to “report,” that biomass could be anything–from grass to old furniture, and including “dead bodies.” (Granted, desecration of the dead is actually a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, but hey! This is Fox News right? Waterboarding? Corpse-eating robots? Whatevs. Freedom!!!)

cyclone engine

The machine, being developed by Robotic Technology, based in Maryland, goes under the inevitable name of EATR–that is, the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot. The idea is that it would be powered by an ultra-efficient furnace–the so-called Waste Heat Engine developed by Cyclone PowerTechnology, which uses heat to create steam, which would then power an electric turbine. That heat could be provided by burning both convention fuels like gasoline or cooking oil, but also biomass. The company estimates that 150 pounds of vegetation could provide 100 miles of driving for the bot. It would then be able to find it’s own food using autonomous control technology which has already–ahem–eaten $250 million in research grants, as part of the Future Combat Systems program.

But back to the corpse question. We’re thinking that in light of the Geneva Conventions, the very possibility that this thing would eat a human corpse is enough to scuttle the project. Which means that to get it operational, the machine would have to know exactly what counts as human remains, and know to steer clear. Which, come to think of it, is still pretty damn terrifying. But at least these robots will never fear for their jobs, like Japanese robots. These things are intended to be able to live an itinerant lifestyle for years on their own.


[Robotic Technology via Fox News]

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.