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Roboticists 3D-Printed Soft Robot Hands that Sweat

cliplab / Shutterstock.com

cliplab / Shutterstock.com

Sweating stops us from "overheating" during activities. So, roboticists create perspiring soft robot hands to test if sweating can keep machines cool too.

The first question here is: why would anyone create soft robot hands that sweat.

According to a material scientist, T.J. Wallin, the ability to perspire is one of the most remarkable features of humans.

Although we’ve never been the fastest animals, the early humans were successful hunters. Among other things, the success is due to our ability to remain cool via sweating while chasing our prey, says Wallin.

Meanwhile, the prey that doesn’t have this ability becomes physically exhausted. In other words, we sweat to avoid overheating.

As you may have guessed, this human attribute could be useful in robots. Future machines could have longer operating hours without performance lags provided they can remain cool.

In a paper published in the Science Robotics, researchers explained how they create soft robot hands that sweat.

Creating Soft Robot Hands to Sweat

The team filled a hollow pressurized reservoir in a soft robot’s finger with water. Then, they used a duct made of heat-reactive plastic to connect the reservoir to the surface.

So, when the plastic hits a specific temperature, the pores open up to allow water into the surface. There, the water evaporates to produce a cooling effect that’s more than twice as effective as the sweatiest animals.

Now you’re thinking; creating sweating robots seems extreme. Aren’t there easier ways of cooling these machines?

Yes, most robots are made of metals. As you know, metals are excellent conductors and can disperse heat on their own.

However, a specific type of robot – known as soft robots – is designed to perform delicate functions. These include medical procedures, packaging fruits, among others.

Since these robots are made from rubber (a good insulator), it becomes necessary to create a way for the machines to stay cool on their own.

Co-author of the study, and associate professor of Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Robert Shepherd said:

“We believe [this] is a basic building block of a general-purpose, adaptive, and enduring robot.”

There are other advantages of building sweat glands into robots.

For example, it means machines can operate independently in places that have no coolant. Also, Shepherd noted that future robots might be able to release water to cool the environment, as well as suck up surrounding liquid for analysis.

While sweating helps maintain a low temperature, it also comes with some downsides.

The Downside to Having Sweaty Hands

One issue is topping up the liquid that the robot loses. Also, there’s the fact that sweating is practically useless underwater since the environment itself aids cooling.

But the biggest problem is that sweating could cause performance issues. For example, it lubricates the gripper‘s fingers, hence reducing friction. Of course, Slippery hands could raise a safety issue for soft robots.

To compensate for this problem, the scientists are modeling the range of temperatures in which the gripper performs best. Then, the machine produces just the amount of liquid necessary to maintain the zone.

Read More: Facebook’s AI Can Help Robots Navigate Without Maps

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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