In Arizona, a sweaty robot helps humans battle heatwaves

(AFP) – What happens in the human body during heatstroke? And how to defend against it, on a warming planet? To answer these burning questions, researchers are working in the southwestern United States with a robot that can breathe, shiver and sweat.

Despite the ambient 47°C, Andi can stand for hours under the homicidal sun of Phoenix. An unparalleled resistance that excites the scientists tasked with carrying this unique humanoid for a walk on the campus of the State University of Arizona.

“This is the world’s first thermal dummy that you can take outside on a regular basis, to measure how much heat it receives from the environment,” mechanical engineering professor Konrad Rykaczewski told AFP. The puppet is “a very realistic way of measuring (…) a human being’s reaction to extreme climatic conditions”.

Its simple crash test dummy look hides treasures of technology. Beneath its carbon fiber epoxy epidermis, a network of connected sensors evaluate the heat as it spreads through the body.

Andi also has an internal cooling system and pores, to allow him to breathe and wick sweat away. All managed on 35 independent thermal zones, so as to be able to distribute perspiration. Like humans, the robot sweats more from its back than its forearms.

Until now there were only about ten models of this type and none could venture outside. They were mainly used by sports equipment manufacturers to test their technical clothing in thermal chambers.

– Understanding Hyperthermia –

The robot will help better understand hyperthermia, this 21st century disease that threatens a growing part of the world’s population due to global warming.

For obvious ethical reasons, “no one studies the increase in body temperature while someone is suffering from heatstroke,” Rykaczewski recalls.

With Andi it becomes possible, in real conditions.

Accompanied by Marty, a mobile weather station that specifically measures the heat reflected by surrounding buildings, the robot takes its first steps outdoors in the midst of a historic Phoenix heat wave.

The Arizona capital is currently experiencing its longest heat wave on record: On Friday, the mercury exceeded 43C for the 22nd consecutive day.

This desert metropolis in the American Southwest is an ideal laboratory for preparing for tomorrow’s climate.

“If the future of Paris looks like Phoenix today, we can learn a lot about the way we design buildings,” continues Rykaczewski. “How do we change them? And how do we change what we wear? How do we change our behavior and adapt it to temperatures of this order of magnitude?”

Andi is also infinitely reprogrammable. The research team can “create digital dummy twins to study different segments of the population,” says Jennifer Vanos, a climate scientist involved in the project.

Young people, athletes, obese people or people in fragile health… Scientists can thus simulate the specific thermoregulation mechanisms of each person: the older you get, the less you sweat, for example.

– Protect the most vulnerable –

Unlike mere mortals, Andi can also survive amidst a dodger without spilling a drop, during experiments where sweat isn’t a factor.

How to face a hot wind, a humid heat, with what kind of clothing? Scientists will test its off-road profile in multiple situations.

Their research will be useful for designing clothing against the heat, rethinking the urban planning of our cities or protecting the weakest.

In Phoenix, which opens dozens of “cooling spots” for the homeless every summer, their findings could guide action by social workers.

“How long does a person have to go to a center to bring down the temperature to a safe level? We can answer this question with Andi,” Vanos enthuses.

The team also dreams of developing cost-effective sensors, to be used on construction sites to adjust the duration of work based on the heat actually felt on site and the health of the workers.

At the moment, the schedules are often limited only according to the general weather conditions, regrets Mr. Rykaczewski.

This “would allow us to move towards greater safety, rather than having these monolithic recommendations by city, by state, by country,” concludes the researcher.

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