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Video: A clock powered by dead flies

British designers have developed a clock that is powered by flies trapped on flypaper, an idea inspired by carnivorous plants that attract and capture flying insects to eat for energy.


These plants grow in regions short in nitrogen, so they attract insects with a shiny surface that appears to look like water, but is actually sticky, clock designer James Auger explains in the video. That's the inspiration for flypaper.

In the clock, the flypaper rolls around a conveyor belt mechanism. Flies that get stuck on the paper pass over a blade on one of the rollers that scrapes them off and into a microbial fuel cell. The fuel cell generates electricity to power the rollers and the digital clock.

The idea for the fuel cell comes from Chris Melhuish and colleagues at the Bristol Robotics Lab, who created a fly-powered robot. Eight dead flies in the microbial fuel cell generate enough electricity to power the robot for 12 days, Melhuish says.

For now, the technology is perhaps most useful to time-stressed cooks annoyed by flies in their kitchen. In the future, such technology could be used to help create truly autonomous robots — ones that can find and generate their own sources of energy.


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).