Symbiotic Machines For Space Exploration

Ivan Henriques

Humans are now drivers of environmental change on a scale that is unique in Earth’s history. Anthropocentric landscapes are characterised by reduced biodiversity and deteriorated ecosystems. In the meantime preparations are being made for Lunar and Martian habitats, requiring a tremendous advancement in the methods and instrumentation of ecosynthesis. How will scientists and engineers working with artists and designers accomplish this pivotal endeavour? The urge to explore essentially uninhabitable environments is an important stimulus towards a metabolic approach in design and material science. Symbiotic Machines for Space Exploration (SyMSE) is a bio-art project that explores the development of autonomous systems aimed at enhancing terrestrial ecosystems and facilitating atmospheric formation on other planets through artificial photosynthesis. The bio-drone C-DER and the kinetic sculpture BacterBrain are two of SyMSE’s outcomes and a continuation of the bio-machines created by Ivan Henriques.

BacterBrain, 2018-2019

The project BacterBrain looks at the automation of robotic structures powered by photosynthetic bacteria. This piece explores the change of robotic paradigms when a non-human living organism – the photosynthetic bacteria – finds new ways of connection and control of the kinetic structure, questioning the model of how robots operate. How would a robotic structure behave, sense and plan with a “brain” controlled by bacteria? The kinetic structure, a tensegrity model, changes autonomously through the electrical variation of the metabolism of a group of bacteria called “Rodobacter Spheroids”. The design of the tensegrity model is powered and controlled by a combination Rodobacter Spheroids and potassium permanganate. The potassium permanganate takes the electrons from the metabolism of the Rodobacter Spheroids. This colony creates a photosynthetic microbial fuel cell that generates power for the tensegrity model to move. Through the electrical variation that occurs, it triggers the movement of the structure.

C-DER, 2017-2019

The bio-drone C-DER harvests its energy through photosynthesis in micro-algae. The energy harvested from the photosynthetic process is applied to power the drone. The C-DER operates as a swarm and has a dual function. On the one hand it is capable of exchanging gases with the environment through micro-algae photosynthesis and at the same time it harvest its electricity from this process. On the other hand it aims to restore endangered environments on earth or to stimulate the creation of an atmosphere on other planets via a seeding system integrated within the device.