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Example EATR

Hybrid External Combustion Engine  (Source:

Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot finds its own fuel

A robot that forages its own fuel might sound like a work of science fiction. However, that is exactly what is coming out of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

The robot, called Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot or EATR for short, will be able to forage for biofuel during a long-range mission. This could then be used to recharge its electrical devices, carry troop equipment (MULE concept) or even transport the soldiers themselves.

In addition to vegetation, EATR can also use conventional or unconventional fuels (e.g., heavy fuel, gasoline, natural gas, diesel, kerosene, propane, coal, solar, algae, cooking oil).

Unlike internal combustion engines, the Cyclone engine which powers EATR uses an external combustion chamber to heat a separate working fluid (de-ionized water) which expands to create mechanical energy by moving pistons or a turbine (i.e., Rankine cycle steam engine). Combustion is external so engine can run on any fuel (solid, liquid, or gaseous). So far, a 100HP engine prototype has been developed.

The Cyclone engine offers several other important benefits, including lower combustion temperatures and pressures create less toxic and exotic exhaust gases as the uniquely configured combustion chamber creates a rotating flow that facilitates complete air and fuel mixing, and complete combustion, so there are virtually no emissions and less heat released (hundreds of degrees lower than internal combustion exhaust). It also does not need a catalytic converter, radiator, transmission, oil pump or lubricating oil (water-lubricated). 

The EATR uses a robotic arm to gather and prepare vegetation, which it feeds through a shredder into a centrifugal combustion chamber, where it is ignited and then heats a series of coils. The coils contain deionized water (to stop them from furring up like a kettle). As the water inside the coils is superheated, the steam is piped to a radial steam engine, which consists of six pistons. The steam rotates the pistons, driving a generator which produces electricity. This is stored in batteries that power the electric motors which drive the EATR along. 

The steam engine is designed to be a “closed-loop” system, in which water escaping from the cylinders through the exhaust ports is captured and cooled in a condensing unit. This turns the steam back into water, which is then returned to the combustion chamber.

Image-recognition software linked to a laser and camera would allow EATR to recognize plants, leaves and wood. Robert Finkelstein, Robotic Technology’s president, estimates that about 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of vegetation would provide enough electricity for the machine to travel around 160km (100 miles). The company recently received EATR’s engine, which has been developed by Cyclone Power Technology of Florida. The next stage is to integrate the EATR technology into a military vehicle to prove that the idea works. The type of vehicle that will be used has not yet been decided, although it could be a HMMWV modified to drive itself under robotic control. After a period of testing, Dr Finkelstein is confident that a fully working EATR prototype vehicle that acts autonomously could be fielded by around 2013.

A detailed PDF outlining the program can be found here.


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Predator on a vegan diet
By mattclary on 5/22/2010 11:01:47 AM , Rating: 3
This thing is going to spend more time foraging than hunting whatever it is they plan for it to hunt. And, not much use in a dessert, me thinks.

RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By JasonMick on 5/22/2010 11:22:35 AM , Rating: 5
And, not much use in a dessert, me thinks.

I would agree. Even with a lot of whipped cream, peanuts, chocolate syrup, and caramelized sugar it would probably still taste pretty metallic.

RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By trajan on 5/22/2010 11:31:22 AM , Rating: 2
Pot/kettle? Most of the time I catch a DT post right after it's been published, there are at least two typos or grammar errors. That's nothing to be proud of but unless you're the NYT I think it's a little silly to be critical. I think an even lower standard should apply to comments.

What DOES matter to me about DT articles - content, readability, relevance, form - has been really good here lately, the odd exception aside. DT is really a gem, thanks for the hard work at it.

RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By JasonMick on 5/22/2010 11:45:55 AM , Rating: 3
Don't worry I wasn't trying to be snarky, just making a little joke on the merits of eating robots.

I definitely appreciate the reader feedback, and I always try to correct any mistakes I come across as soon as I get in front of a computer (I'm not always in front of a computer!). So I'm glad you enjoy the content and analysis, and if anything ALWAYS let me know if you think something is amiss.


RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By Chillin1248 on 5/22/2010 7:12:54 PM , Rating: 3
And don't forget the Submit News button in the upper left hand side of the screen. The best contributers/finder of news are you the commenter's. So please next time you see something that you think fits Daily Techs criteria please submit it.

As always we appreciate user feedback.

RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By sleepeeg3 on 5/22/2010 10:51:28 PM , Rating: 2
Give self 6!

RE: Predator on a vegan diet
By hellokeith on 5/22/2010 4:26:01 PM , Rating: 2
I'm ok with it so long as they don't develop an external cyclone engine that can run off of animal life.

Steam engines are dead! Long live the steam engine!
By tygrus on 5/23/2010 9:41:16 PM , Rating: 3
So I doesn't run on coal but it takes 42.5Kg of fuel to travel every 100km. It might spend more time and energy collecting fuel than completing missions. It might get there next week ?

By geddarkstorm on 5/24/2010 12:40:25 PM , Rating: 2
Well, consider its taking raw vegetation and somehow combusting that. That isn't easy, nor efficient! Most material in vegetation is next to useless as a fuel (most vegetation weight is just water). I'm sure if you fed it gasoline it would need far less weight to work. Just a little factoid, gasoline weighs 2.69-2.91 kg per gallon.

I do wish the article had the direct efficiency of this cyclone engine listed. It's a very interesting design.

EATR is not vegeterian, but omniviorious.
By FishTankX on 5/23/2010 1:09:29 AM , Rating: 2
There's nothing keeping the EATR from using other animals that it shoots as food. Or enemy combatants for that matter. It would just keep them on the back burner, burn off all the liquid, then burn them in the combustion chamber like any other items it comes across. However, I think using enemy combatants would be frowned upon by the Geneva convention.

However, there's no reason this technology couldn't be used by an unscrupulous enemy.

I think it'd be hilarious if it could siphon gas off cars in urban areas.

By Integral9 on 5/25/2010 9:56:34 AM , Rating: 2
I could really use one of these to clean up all the deer carcasses around my neighborhood. There's a new one almost every day.

I could also see this going awry when it starts eating everyone's azaleas and pets.

By Spookster on 5/22/2010 2:02:49 PM , Rating: 3
Next thing we know it'll be jamming cords into the back of our heads and using us as batteries.

By Murloc on 5/22/2010 10:49:40 AM , Rating: 2
nice but I don't see how this thing is gonna feed himself, I mean, there are a wealth of different plants with different forms, how can the arm be able to get the leaves and feed them without risking problems?

it would take a lot of time to recharge batteries too.

Well it's a nice thing anyway, maybe it will be useful maybe not.

By btc909 on 5/22/2010 1:21:06 PM , Rating: 2
So is the offical designation the T-50?

An EXTERNAL combustion engine?
By Jason H on 5/22/2010 1:37:24 PM , Rating: 2
Don't they realize that's a bad idea?

By JonnyDough on 5/24/2010 3:21:02 AM , Rating: 2
There are tanks with similar engines capable of burning a broad range of fuels, they've had them for decades. This would be a good autonomous fighting vehicle. It can continue to slowly move along and patrol borders - i.e. along the Rio Grande. It can simply eat cactus and shrubs. Much much cheaper to put up a sign and and have one of these covering an area than to try to patrol allll that land with men, or to put fences up. Or in militarized zones I think this will likely also be used as some sort of border patrol. Of course, the governments will make sheep of us all yet...pen us in, and eventually exterminate.

Can I get one for my car?
By brundall on 5/24/2010 10:02:08 AM , Rating: 2
So when can I get one in my car? There is always vegetation along roadsides that I could collect on my way to work to power it. However - this might contribute to global warming somewhat.

By Ammohunt on 5/24/2010 3:24:13 PM , Rating: 2
So they spent all this money on a robot that acts like a horse?

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