Scientists develop robot fingers that sweat when they’re too hot

We could soon be seeing robots that are even more like humans. Scientists have been working on soft robots with fingers that sweat, to help them regulate their temperature.

Soft robots
The texture of the fingers is rubbery, inspired by several species found on earth. Photo: Cornell University/Facebook Reality Labs/AAAS via IEEE

A softer approach

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has reported on a paper that looks at solutions to help soft robots cool down. Standard robots are made of harder materials that are more prone to damage. They could fall, bump into other objects and scratch easily.

However, soft robots are more agile and can fit in more easily in human settings. Additionally, their lightweight design makes them safer to be around other beings and they are less expensive to produce. Their skins are inspired by living beings in the animal kingdom, such as octopuses, starfish, and worms.

However, with their rubbery texture, heat could be trapped within their bodies. Fans and radiators are usually placed within conventional robots but these are made of hard materials that take up a lot of space. This would be tough to implement in soft devices with their sleek stature.

T.J Wallin, a co-author and research scientist at Facebook Reality Labs, shared how scientists have built robots that can sweat to help their temperature be regulated.

Robot fingers
An example of how the fingers in the can expand to help control temperature. Photo: IEEE Spectrum via YouTube

Nature is the teacher

He states that the human ability to sweat has been integral to their survival over the ages. Humans aren’t the fastest animals but since we have the ability to perspire while not having as much hair as our counterparts, it has helped us cool down during important situations.

Wallin refers to early activities such as hunting in the wild as an example of sweating helping humans during chases. Furthermore, he talks of how modern marathon runners can lose almost four liters of sweat in an hour.

This translates into 2.5 kilowatts of cooling capacity. These biological phenomenons can help guide engineers to implement solutions on their projects.

The soft robots would help offer a more safer environment  around within the home than harder devices. Photo: Samsung

Temperature balance

The researchers of these techniques printed soft robot fingers using 3D-printing technology. These fingers were hollow like balloons and could bend or straighten to hold or drop items depending on the level of water pressure within each finger.

The back of each finger was also dotted with microscopic pores. At temperatures cooler than 30 degrees C, these pores remained closed. However, at higher temperatures, the material on the back of each finger expanded, dilating the pores and letting the water in each finger sweat out.

Moreover, as the heat rose, the material that made up the body of each finger shrank, helping squeeze out water.

Additionally, the back of each finger had microscopic pores dotted over them. When the temperature cooled down to below 30 degrees C, they kept closed.

Then when the heat was higher, the back of each finger expanded, which dilated the pores to release water. When the temperature rose further, the material shrank to help squeeze the liquid out.

“The best part of this synthetic strategy is that the thermoregulatory performance is baked into the material itself,” Wallin said in the study, as reported by the IEEE

“We did not need to add sensors or other components to control the sweating rate—when the local temperature rose above the transition point, the pores would simply open and close on their own”

Further progress

Altogether, this process makes robots even more human-like with features added that usually make us unique. Nonetheless, this is a clever solution to help produce effective devices that can fit in more naturally in our environment.

What do you think about these soft robots with fingers that sweat? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comment section.

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