This Robotic Hand Stays Cool by Sweating
By Theresa Machemer/Smithsonianmag.com
A new robotic hand has a surprisingly humanlike way to cool off: it can sweat. This isn’t a traditional all-metal construction bot, in which case oozing water would probably mean something’s going wrong, or pose a threat to the electronics inside. The sweaty robot, described in a new study in Science Robotics, is made of flexible hydrogels.
Hydrogel robots, also called “soft” robots, are useful because they’re less dangerous—say, for example, a factory worker hits their head on one—compared to colliding with something made of metal. But soft robots also come with a different set of engineering challenges.
When a robot does anything that requires energy, it starts to heat up, and if it gets too hot, it will break. Metal can heat up and cool down relatively quickly. But a hydrogel, which is about 50 percent water, is more difficult to cool down once its temperature starts to rise.
Luckily, it’s a problem that had been solved before in nature. Mammals, like humans, are also largely made of water. And in our case, the solution to high temperatures is sweat.