Much has been said that robots are the future, since they will be the ones who perform the heaviest and most repetitive tasks while humans do other types of much more complex activities. But before this happens there is a problem to solve: the energy limitation that batteries offer today.
So what is the solution? According to researcher James Pikul, imitate nature, in this case animals and even humans. With this in mind, he managed to develop what he claims is the first multifunctional energy system for a robot, which is based on the use of “artificial blood” to mimic the circulatory system.
Robots vs Animals
James Pikul, a researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania, has just published an interesting study with the help of a group of researchers from Cornell University. This study deals, in broad strokes, of how a circulatory system can be useful in robots almost in the same way as it is in animals, that is, being a multipurpose system.
Today, robots have elements focused on a single function , such as a battery to store energy or a mechanical system to transmit movement from one component to another. Animals, on the other hand, have extremely multifunctional elements.
Here we have for example the case of fish gills, which allow the exchange of gases under water, maintain the pressure of body fluids, regulate the acid balance and even eliminate waste. On the other side we have robots, which curiously are still very basic if we compare them with animals.
Therefore, robots are usually limited both in the issue of energy autonomy and in their capacity for movement and flexibility. And, for example, robots need a large battery that makes them big and heavy, in addition to making them dependent on recharges every so often if we want them to continue working.
Pikul points out that if humans are able to “function” for several days they are eating, the robots should also be able to function for a longer time before requiring a recharge of energy.
“High energy density vascular system for robots”
With all this in mind, Pikul and his team went to work to develop an innovative system that would give robots a dual-purpose component. This is based on “synthetic blood” that serves as hydraulic fluid, to provide movement, but it is also an electrolytic solution that provides energy to the robot.
According to research published in Nature, this development is known as “electrolytic vascular system with high energy density for robots”. To prove it, they created a robotic lionfish to which this circulatory system of artificial blood was installed, this with the aim of solving the problem of operation and storage of energy in a robot.
“We wanted to solve this problem by finding ways to store energy in all the components of a robot, this robot ‘blood’ is our first demonstration of energy storage in a fluid that is normally only used for movement.”
An important point is that said “blood” is really capable of serving as a battery. Specifically, it is a ” redox flow battery “, which stores energy in a liquid electrolyte solution to improve the performance of a robot, although it is less efficient than a solid battery.
The “liquid batteries” are not new, in fact we have been using them on a large scale for several years in electrical grid systems, and have even come to be used as hydraulic fluid to move robots, but never before had they been used to perform both functions at the same time. time.
According to Pikul, this is the first time that hydraulic power transmission, movement and energy storage have been combined in a single multifunctional system inside a robot. Thanks to this system, the robotic fish is able to move its fins to push against the current, and at the same time have the necessary energy to do it.
The new “robotic blood”
Pikul points out that its system is similar to the vascular system of animals , in fact it is inspired by it, since the liquid is a chemical solution that stores substances to pump them throughout the body and thus be able to perform other types of functions.
“In our synthetic vascular system, the fluid stores chemical energy that we can use to feed the robotic fish, as the fluid is pumped through the robot, the movement of the fluid also makes the robot move. Therefore, it is multifunctional, it is these multiple functions that allow the robot to maintain its dexterity and movements, and at the same time to have a long operating time “.
According to the research, during the first tests they managed to make the robotic fish swim for maximum periods of 36 hours, and at a speed of 1.5 bodies per minute. Yes, it is not the fastest in the world but it is just the beginning. After comparing it with a robotic fish without “artificial blood” and driven by a conventional battery, the researchers say that its robotic fish with synthetic vascular system had eight times more autonomy.
Those responsible for this research say that many times the answers to complex problems can be found in biology. In this case it is just an experiment, but Pikul mentions that he would like to be able to implement it in robots of larger size, autonomous machinery based exclusively on this fluid, and even electric vehicles or even airplanes.
In fact, Pikul says that with technological advances he would like to add more functionalities to this “artificial blood”, which would help the robots to have new capabilities through a single system.