“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” is a sentence no one should ever have had to say.
That was Harry Schoell, CEO of one of the companies making this robot, after a panic-filled scientific world started rumors of corpse-eating robots. The rest of that statement goes:
“We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”
This robot was then given the appropriate acronym, EATR (Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot). The project began in 2003 and is a DARPA-funded venture between Cyclone Power Technologies and Robotic Technology, Inc.
The robot was designed for long-range operations that also require extreme endurance but its designers stress that it can provide material support to units requiring intensive labor or just by carrying the unit’s packs. They also designed it for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition or casualty extraction.
Before we all go crazy – this is an old story, so the internet already did, but still – the desecration of corpses is specifically forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The designers of the phase I engine stressed heavily that the robot is not going to eat the dead. Instead, it runs on “fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings, and wood chips — small, plant-based items.”
As of April 2009, RTI estimated that 150 pounds of biofuel vegetation could provide sufficient energy to drive the to vehicle 100 miles. The second phase of the project will have the engine determine which materials are suitable (edible) for conversion into fuel, locate those materials, and then ingest them. Basically, the machine is going to learn to eat on its own.
The final phase will determine what military or civil applications a robot that can feed itself by living off the land will actually have and where such a system can be successfully installed.