Adapting to Extreme Heat with AI-Powered Robots

Category Science

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ANDI is an AI-powered robot designed to mimic humans to measure the impact of extreme heat on the body. It is equipped with temperature sensors and cooling channels, as well as a companion called MaRTy that take in data about the environment around ANDI. The bot and its companion are being tested in heat-vulnerable environments in Arizona in the hopes of finding new ways to help people live comfortably in hot climates.

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It’s been a hot summer, with heat waves engulfing multiple parts of the world and setting record temperatures in some. We can hope that in time some of the measures being taken to fight climate change—from switching to renewable energy to capturing atmospheric carbon to using more sustainable building materials—will make a difference, and the planet won’t be so hot. But until then we’re going to have to adapt, on multiple levels: our activities, our habits, our homes, and even our bodies.

ANDI is able to simulate different body characteristics such as BMI, age and medical conditions

A robot named ANDI may be able to help with the latter. ANDI is like the mannequins you see in department stores, except it can walk, breathe, and sweat. It was designed by a company called Thermetrics and is mostly used by clothing companies to test athletic wear. But researchers at Arizona State University are now using it to learn more about how the human body responds to extreme heat, in hopes of finding new ways to help us live more comfortably and safely in hot climates.

ANDI's companion MaRTy is used to measure the environmental factors around the bot such as heat from the sun, infrared radiation from the ground and convection from the air

"You can’t put humans in dangerous extreme heat situations and test what would happen," said Jenni Vanos, a professor at ASU’s School of Sustainability who studies extreme heat and human health. "But there are situations we know of…where people are dying of heat and we still don’t fully understand what happened. ANDI can help us figure that out." .

The robot’s body is divided into 35 different surface areas. Each area has its own temperature sensors and pores that emit sweat. The "sweat" comes from internal cooling channels—that is, tubes that let water circulate through the body to help keep its temperature down. The robot "breathes" using an external tank that measures hot air exchange between it and the surrounding environment.

ANDI and MaRTy are being specifically tested in heat-vulnerable environments that include paving streets without any tree protection and old homes without air conditioning

Researchers can calibrate ANDI’s settings to mimic how different peoples’ bodies would respond to extreme heat. "We can move different BMI models, different age characteristics, and different medical conditions (into ANDI)," said Ankit Joshi, an ASU research scientist leading the modeling work and the lead operator of ANDI. "A diabetes patient has different thermal regulation from a healthy person. So we can account for all this modification with our customized models." They can also have the bot simulate walking and other forms of exertion to monitor how its internal temperature is affected.

Trees are especially subject to extreme heat, which is why researchers aim to test ANDI and MaRTy in cities with trees to measure the effects

And the human-body-mimicking robot has a sidekick. While ANDI is used to measure heat’s effect on the body, its buddy MaRTy takes in data about the surrounding environment, like how much heat is coming from the sun versus infrared radiation from the ground or convection from the surrounding air.

ANDI was initially tested in an indoor heat chamber that could get up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. But who needs a heat chamber when you live in Arizona in the summer? The bot is now being tested outdoors (accompanied by MaRTy), both on ASU’s Tempe campus and around different parts of Phoenix. Researchers are particularly interested in taking the duo to what they call heat-vulnerable environments, which could include paved streets that don’t have any tree cover or old homes that don’t have air conditioning.

The robot was initially tested in an indoor heat chamber that could reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit

We already know that threes are cities and places that are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, said Raiyu Yashiro, an ASU postdoctoral researcher who works with Vanos. "But at the same time,” she added, “we don’t understand why." .

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