Robots can now sweat to cool themselves down

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Robots can now sweat to cool themselves down

Did you know that one time you broke into a sweat right before your presentation due to nervousness, your body was trying to cool down because it became too hot? Were you aware that when this sweat evaporates, the temperature of your skin falls? Some of us might know this while some might not.

Well, this unique ability of human beings to cool off through perspiration has provided an answer to the researchers at Cornell University in the field of soft robotics. When machines or robots heat up, they either stop working to cool down or they break down. This doesn’t just break the flow of work but also leads to loss of productive time and maintenance costs.

In rigid systems, this unwanted heat can be dissipated through heat sinks, external fans or by running cold water internally through tubes like in cars. However, when it comes to soft robots that are made to replicate some human-like activities, the systems need to flex and need a solution that is more efficient than an external cooling device. This is where the biological function of perspiration comes into the picture.

Researchers have developed a soft robotic hand that can sweat to cool itself down when it reaches or detects high temperatures. The hand has finger-like structures that are comprised of two layers of hydrogels. The first layer is stiffer than the second outer layer which is made of pores that are about 0.20 millimeters wide. You could imagine the first layer to be similar to a balloon that shrinks when the temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius and oozes out the water. The pores in the outer layer simultaneously expand and the water is secreted on to the surface of the robotic hand.

3D printing is used to give the fingers a wider surface area so that this “sweat” evaporates faster, thereby cooling the robot faster. When compared to a human, such robots can cool down six times faster. These soft robots can also cool other objects by gripping them and drawing the heat onto their surface. The hot surface then cools down with the help of this sweating mechanism.

This invention, however, is at a very basic stage and has a long way to go. Certain drawbacks are yet to be worked on like the fact that the secretion of water reduces the grip of the bot and may cause items to slip. Another concern is that, as humans keep rehydrating themselves, currently there is no method to replenish the bot’s water store. However, by modifying this invention, robots may be able to slide instead of walk, clean themselves by secreting fluids or even digest and absorb nutrients without the need for a human attendee to help them with the same.

With the passing time, robots are becoming more and more self-sufficient, slowly eliminating the need for human assistance. Scientists believe that if robots could cool themselves automatically like humans they would soon be able to survive extreme environments like humans.

So, the next time, when you visit a robot operated hotel and shake hands with the robot concierge, you need to be aware that the sweaty palms are not a mark on the robot’s personal hygiene but an indication of its long working hours. After all, our robots are turning into humans.