'Breathing, sweating, shivering' climate test bot made for heat waves

Scientists create the world’s first outdoor walking manikin that sweats, shivers and breathes like a human

  • Robot ‘ANDI’ mimics human response to heat with synthetic pores, flux sensors 
  • ANDI works as a test dummy to study how humans cope with intense heat waves
  • READ MORE: Robot enters body through the rectum to repair damaged organs 

The world’s first walking manikin that generates heat, shivers, walks and breathes like a human could help scientists understand our body’s resilience to punishing heat waves.

Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) redesigned a robot used by clothing companies for sports gear to mimic the thermal functions of the human body.

The test droid, ANDI, was fitted with synthetic pores for artificial sweating, temperature, and heat flux sensors across the 35 different surface areas covering its manikin body. 

With a novel internal cooling channel, this improved ASU ANDI is the first thermal manikin fit for outdoor use — meaning that scientists can now subject this climate change ‘test dummy’ to the extreme temperatures of the Arizona desert.

ANDI, the climate test droid at Arizona State, has synthetic pores for artificial sweating, temperature sensors and heat flux sensors across 35 different surface areas covering its body

Thousands of people die from heat-related ailments each year, a figure that has risen due to climate change. ASU’s researchers are hoping to bring that number down by running tests on ANDI to better understand how people  respond to extreme temperatures

‘You can’t put humans in dangerous extreme heat situations and test what would happen,’ said atmospheric scientist Jenni Vanos, an associate professor at ASU’s School of Sustainability.

‘But there are situations we know of in the Valley where people are dying of heat, and we still don’t fully understand what happened.

‘ANDI can help us figure that out.’

Across the United States, thousands of people die from heat stroke and other heat-related ailments each year, a figure rising due to climate change. 

In Arizona’s Maricopa County alone, 425 people died of heat-related medical issues in 2022 — over a hundred more than the heat-related deaths reported in 2021. 

The thermal manikin can sweat, with custom-built internal cooling channels to circulate cool water throughout its body

ASU’s researchers are hoping to bring that number down by better understanding how people of different ages with different body types and medical conditions respond to extreme heat waves, extended sun exposure and other harsh conditions. 

Doing so, however, poses some experimental challenges. 

‘You don’t want to run a lot of these [tests] with a real person,’ professor Konrad Rykaczewski at Arizona State University told the Arizona Republic. ‘It’s unethical and would be dangerous.’

Inside ASU, ANDI’s lab work is not too dissimilar from the handful of other ANDIs sweating it out inside the prototype shops of major sportswear makers. It’s just a little more intense.   

Housed in a heat chamber, the researchers have called the ‘Warm Room,’ ANDI is subjected to wind, solar radiation, and temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Between trials, ANDI can be reprogrammed to react as different people based on weight, age and other factors. 

‘A diabetes patient has different thermal regulation from a healthy person,’ according to ASU research scientist Ankit Joshi, who leads the modeling work that goes into ANDI. ‘So we can account for all this modification with our customized models.’ 

And the Warm Room can also be modulated to simulate various heat-exposure scenarios common to any hot spot around the globe.

Between trials, ANDI can be reprogramed to react to extreme heat conditions as if it were different kinds of people, based on weight, age, medical history and other factors

ASU research scientist Ankit Joshi (above) leads the modelling work that lets ANDI simulate the physical responses of various kinds of humans when subjected to extreme heat conditions

But it’s outside in the southwestern desert heat where ASU’s modded ANDI meets its toughest challenges and most important work. 

The thermal manikin can sweat, with custom-built internal cooling channels to circulate cool water throughout its body, while it simulates and records human reactions to heat from complex environments. 

ANDI’s sensors collect distinct data on a body type’s reaction to solar radiation from the sun, infrared radiation wafting up from the warm asphalt ground, and heat convection circulating in the air. The hope, in part, is that the ASU team can investigate solutions to community-building plans.

When the ASU team drapes ANDI in special fabric, its simulated sweat wicks and cools its sensor-laden robotic surfaces, just as if it were a real and genuinely uncomfortable human sweltering in Arizona.

This summer, ANDI will team up with a new partner: ASU’s biometeorological heat robot, MaRTy, a suite of complex heat sensors mounted on a garden cart.

‘MaRTy can tell us how the built environment modifies the amount of heat that hits the body,’ said Ariane Middel, an ASU researcher whose urban planning and design work focuses on climate issues. ‘But MaRTy doesn’t know what happens inside the body.’ 

‘MaRTy measures the environment,’ Middel said, ‘and then ANDI can then tell us how the body can react.’

ANDI and MaRTy’s first missions will take them around ASU’s Tempe, Arizona campus. 

The duo will travel the Phoenix metro area to gather data on overheated and at-risk living conditions, like unshaded neighborhood streets and poorly ventilated old mobile homes with broken air conditioning.

ANDI came to ASU custom-built from its manufacturer Thermetics, thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation’s Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI) program.

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