This Photosynthetic Robot Eats Algae

April 9, 2014 | Marina Galperina

Transdisciplinary artist Ivan Henriques collaborated with the scientists at VU University Amsterdam to create the Symbiotic Machine. The project is a prototype of an autonomous bio-machine that harvests energy from photosynthetic micro-organisms. It grazes ponds, canals and rivers, looking for spirogyra. The machine then ingests the freshwater algae and turns it into energy for its next hunt.

This bio-solar machine will create a symbiotic system with the environment where it is located, which detects, collects, carries and processes these organisms autonomously, amplifying the energy obtained from them using a floating mobile robotic structure.

In an interview with We Make Money Not Art, Henriques explained the process, theory and technology behind this project, including its molecular interactions, light absorption and the transfer of electrons and protons.

Sealed with a transparent cylinder a motor, an endless worm and a pepper grinder aligned and connected by one single axis compose the mouth/anus, like a jellyfish. This cylinder has a liquid inlet/outlet (for water and algae spirogyra) placed at the end part of the endless worm. The endless worm has an important function to pump liquid in and out and to give small propulsion for the machine.

In order to “hack” the algae spirogyra photosynthesis’ and apply it as an energy source, the algae cell’s membrane has to be broken. The pepper grinder that is connected at the end of the endless worm can grind the algae breaking the membrane cell, releasing micro particles.

Damn, science. And art.