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In both biological and engineered systems, functioning at peak power output for prolonged periods of time requires thermoregulation. Here, we report a soft hydrogel-based actuator that can maintain stable body temperatures via autonomic perspiration. Using multimaterial stereolithography, we three-dimensionally print finger-like fluidic elastomer actuators having a poly- N -isopropylacrylamide (PNIPAm) body capped with a microporous (~200 micrometers) polyacrylamide (PAAm) dorsal layer. The chemomechanical response of these hydrogel materials is such that, at low temperatures (<30°C), the pores are sufficiently closed to allow for pressurization and actuation, whereas at elevated temperatures (>30°C), the pores dilate to enable localized perspiration in the hydraulic actuator. Such sweating actuators exhibit a 600% enhancement in cooling rate (i.e., 39.1°C minute −1 ) over similar non-sweating devices. Combining multiple finger actuators into a single device yields soft robotic grippers capable of both mechanically and thermally manipulating various heated objects. The measured thermoregulatory performance of these sweating actuators (~107 watts kilogram −1 ) greatly exceeds the evaporative cooling capacity found in the best animal systems (~35 watts kilogram −1 ) at the cost of a temporary decrease in actuation efficiency.
Whereas vision dominates sensing in robots, animals with limited vision deftly navigate their environment using other forms of perception, such as touch. Efforts have been made to apply artificial skins with tactile sensing to robots for similarly sophisticated mobile and manipulative skills. The ability to functionally mimic the afferent sensory neural network, required for distributed sensing and communication networks throughout the body, is still missing. This limitation is partially due to the lack of cointegration of the mechanosensors in the body of the robot. Here, lacings of stretchable optical fibers distributed throughout 3D-printed elastomer frameworks created a cointegrated body, sensing, and communication network. This soft, functional structure could localize deformation with submillimeter positional accuracy (error of 0.71 millimeter) and sub-Newton force resolution (~0.3 newton).