Courtesy of Organic Robotics Lab

February 10, 2020

Cornell Engineers Turn to Nature for Solving Machinery’s Age Old Dilemma

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While machines seem to have boundless capabilities, there has been one factor limiting machines since their inception: heat.

Cornell engineers, Prof. Rob Shepherd, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Prof. Emmanuel Giannelis, material science and engineering, sought to battle heat through sweating — the same method employed by students walking up the slope on a hot summer day.

Shepherd and Gianelis employed 3D-printing techniques to stimulate sweating in robots, which they are currently testing on a robotic hand. High powered robots currently require maintenance after extended use because of the heat they build up during use.

One of the collaborators from Shepherd’s Organic Robotics Lab, Anand Mishra, told The Sun the initial research project was “bio-inspired” — the basic functions of living things influenced the researchers, prompting them to design this multifunctional robotic hand.

For example, the hand can release sweat without the need of a human operator.

“Sweating takes advantage of evaporated water loss to rapidly dissipate heat and can cool below the ambient environmental temperature,” said Dr. Thomas J. Walling  in a University press release. “So as is often the case, biology provided an excellent guide for us as engineers.”

Actuators, or “robotic hands,” are responsible for moving parts, retaining water and responding to varying temperatures since they are made of hydrogel materials — gels that can absorb water.

The non-robotic basis for this technology lies in the base layer, which is made of a polymer that reacts to temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius — or 86 degrees Fahrenheit — by shrinking, which then squeezes water up into a top layer of another polymer, according to the press release.

Once the water reaches the top layer, it exits through the pores, which are temperature sensitive and automatically enlarge to release the “sweat.”

The pores in this responsive hand will then close when the temperature drops below 30 degrees Celsius.

When the technology is more polished, the lab hopes to increase the capabilities of robots with multiple, complex uses.

“Our current research results lead us in the direction of a multifunctional robot with embodied sensing, actuation, and intelligence.” Mishra said. ”Future soft robots will be highly multifunctional with embodied sensing and intelligence, which could help to respond to diverse and sustainable needs.”