Robotic perspiration

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Robotic perspiration
Robotic perspiration

Perspiration in humans is not a whim of nature, just as robotic perspiration will not be.

The purpose of sweating in humans is to regulate our body temperature as well as to eliminate toxins among other things. Robots have no toxins to eliminate, but they do need to regulate their temperature like us, especially in those areas where they are constantly rubbing or transmitting energy.

And what is science’s solution to this problem? Very easily, make the robots sweat, just as we humans sweat.

The robot’s finger sweating
The robot’s finger sweating

Some robots that operate for hours and hours can become overheated. Normally when we think of a robot we visualize it as being made of metal, a material that dissipates heat well and therefore does not require extra methods of cooling. However, there are also robots made of other materials or specific parts of them, such as rubber hands for example, where rubber, unlike metal, is a perfect insulator that only causes more and more heat to accumulate.

Creating artificial robotic perspiration

In a study published in Science Robotics they show us how they have created a robotic arm with three fingers that literally sweat. In this way the arm can work for much longer as it does not need to stop for cooling. As soon as it reaches a certain temperature, the fingers begin to secrete water to compensate for the high temperatures caused by the operations performed on the machine.

Now, how do you make a guy sweat? It’s no different than how human skin sweats. The fingers have a kind of artificial sweat glands. Inside each toe is water stored in small cavities. These cavities are connected to the surface of the finger by thermoreactive plastic tubes. When the plastic reaches a certain temperature, the pores in the plastic open and the water from the cavities comes to the surface. From there, evaporation produces the cooling effect that reduces the overall temperature of the fingers.

In the different tests that have been carried out, the robot manages to hold the objects while it is sweating. It also works under water and what is even more interesting, the robot sweats when holding a hot object to keep it cool.

The artificial pores of the robot’s fingers are shown on the right side of the image.
The artificial pores of the robot’s fingers are shown on the right side of the image.

But sweat also has its drawbacks

The main advantage of a sweating robot is that it allows the flexible parts (which are usually rubber) to operate for longer periods, without the need to stop and rest or use external methods such as a fan to reduce the temperature of the robot.

However, robotic transpiration also has some inconvenience:

  • It is necessary to supply the robot with water, and the water a robot can store is limited, unless it is connected to an external water source.
  • As it sweats, the robot loses skills. As in humans, the sweaty surface is not able to hold objects well because it becomes more slippery. The researchers in this study have solved this by reducing the range of temperatures in which the robot can sweat so that sweat is minimal and it can maintain a proper grip on all objects.
Star Trek tries to reformulate the identity of one of its most beloved characters
Star Trek tries to reformulate the identity of one of its most beloved characters

In any case, although this may not seem like a “big deal”, it is undoubtedly an impressive advance in the field of robotics, which shows us that we still have much to learn from the human body when trying to imitate its most complex functions.

Sweating is one of the most complex processes the human body does, and while medical science knows how this mechanism operates in our body, trying to replicate that same mechanism in a machine is not an easy task. However, science has already begun to work on it.

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