Robotic Hand Sweats to Stay Cool

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Each finger is made of two layers of hydrogel that react to temperature by contracting and leaking water. (Courtesy of Cornell University)

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.

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