Scientists have developed flexible robot grippers that “sweat”,media the Verge reported. Designed to deal with scenarios where long-running robots can overheat and degrade their performance, the three-finger gripper prevents overheating by borrowing one of humanity’s biggest features: the sweat gland.
“The ability to sweat is one of the most remarkable features of humanbeing,” TJ Wallin, a materials scientist and one of the designers of the robot catcher, told reporters. We weren’t the fastest animals, but early humans were successful in becoming long-lasting hunters, using the ability to sweat and run and stay calm to “physically consume prey.”
The hollow pressurized reservoir inside the fingerpiece is filled with water and is connected to the ground by a pipe made of thermally reactive plastic. When the plastic reaches a certain temperature, the hole opens and the water is pushed to the surface. There, it evaporates and cools more than twice as much as the most sweaty beasts in the animal world. More information about gripper performance was published Wednesday in a paper in Science Robotics.
Most robots are made of metal, which is an excellent conductor, so it emits heat well. However, this flexible robot is made of rubber, which is a good insulator and is designed for fine tasks such as medical surgery and fruit packaging. If flexible robots become commonplace, they will need their own way to prevent overheating.
“Sweating” has other benefits. By loading the “sweat glands” into the robot, users can cool them to temperatures below ambient temperatures, which is not possible using ambient cooling such as fans. This also means that the robot can operate independently and keep itself cool where there is no external coolant. The creator of the catcher, scientists from Cornell University and the Italian Institute of Technology, says this could be crucial in designing unbound robots.
Robert Shepherd, associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and co-author of the study, said: “We believe that this is a common, adaptive and durable robot.” Shepherd also noted that the “sweat gland” may have dual uses in the future. In addition to releasing water for cooling, they can also absorb liquid from around the machine for analysis, similar to how space rovers collect soil samples on distant planets.
At present, however, there are drawbacks to such grippers. One is the need to replenish the liquid supply. But so far, the biggest problem is that sweating can cause performance problems for the assistant itself: the effecton of friction, for example. Scientists are now trying to make up for this by modeling the assistant’s best temperature range and guiding the robot to “sweat” a small amount of it in the region.