Soft Hydrogel Actuator Could ‘Perspire’ to Regulate Body Temperature

Humans have an innate mechanism for cooling through thermal regulation system—and it is quite sound, unarguably. Perspiration followed by evaporation cools our body, and helps maintain proper temperature. So does such a system exist for engineered systems? Well, unfortunately not, despite the incredible advances materials sciences have made. The case in point here is soft robotics, a fast emerging actuation technology. The components directly interfaces with human tissues in range of applications.

Finding soft robots with an effective cooling feature is a challenge that hooked an international team of researchers recently. They developed a soft robotic system—a 3D-printed hydrogel finger actuator to be precise—that is capable of autonomic perspiration. Engineers can integrate several such actuators into a robotic device that can act as hand gripper.

Science Robotics published the study on January 29, 2020.

3D Printing Key to the Design of the Microscale Pores

What astounded them was their thermoregulatory performance—it surpassed the cooling capacity of any known animal system. Moreover, they harnessed a 3D printer–multi-material stereolithography–with the property of to engineer the sweating actuator. Incredulously enough, the microscale pores on the hydrogen become dilated when temperature increased beyond a certain level. Furthermore, the researchers found that the actuator was capable of 600% increase in cooling rate over similar engineered system.

Study to Broaden Use Cases of Soft Robotics

The researchers demonstrated their results through a humanoid robot. Surprisingly, the results held good for a 50 kg robot, as it could do strenuous activity akin to push-up for as long as 11 minutes. The mechanical perspiration system caused the motor to stay intact throughout. Surprisingly, the material design in such a robotic system is a big challenge in itself. But, the researchers were spirited in advancing the application of soft robotics. A variety of their applications makes the presence of robust thermoregulation system imperative, undoubtedly.

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