Robotic Hands: Engineering is guided by three basic concerns: wear, friction and lubrication of machines – this category includes robots, used both to lift car engines and to suture small veins. The friction that occurs when robotic hands are used to hold objects in the presence of moisture remained an unsolved problem until researchers at North Carolina State University were able to discover a new principle of physics that not only explains the phenomenon but opens the door to a new approach in materials engineering.
“One of the reasons why friction is important is because it helps us hold things up without dropping them. Understanding and circumventing it is intuitive for humans, even when we are handling dishes with soap, but it is extremely difficult to take it into account when developing materials that control the ability of robots to grab, “the chemical engineer explained in a statement. and biomolecular Lilian Hsiao, co-author of the study now published in the journal Nature Materials.
The main actor in this operation, which for us is simple but which, for robots, is still an obstacle is called elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL). It refers to the friction between two solid surfaces when they are separated by a thin layer of fluids – something that happens when you rub your thumb on your index finger; between the two fingers there is a layer of oil present in the sweat.
Now imagine this phenomenon occurring when a robotic arm is being used by an amputated patient, in microsurgery or in the installation of tiny components of a space probe.