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MEAM Ph.D. Thesis Defense: “Metal and Air Generate Power for Robots”
April 12, 2022 at 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM
In many cases, the size and weight of energy storage technologies required to power robotic systems are too large or massive for a robot to carry, leading to limited operational times and long recharging times over which the robot remains unused. Computer-free autonomous decision making based on environmental cues provides exciting alternatives to classic control systems for robots and smart materials. Although this functionality has been studied in microswimmers and active colloids where energy in the surrounding liquid is prevalent, there are no devices that can provide sufficient power from environmental chemicals to move and steer larger scale robots and vehicles in dry environments.
In this talk, I will show a new approach for powering robots and electronics by electrochemically scavenging energy from metal surfaces. This approach overcomes energy storage scaling laws by allowing robots and electronics to extract energy from large volumes of energy dense material without having to carry the material on-board. Then, we characterized the evolution of the metal during discharging by using FIB and Micro-CT in our system. Next, we demonstrated an environmentally controlled voltage source that, when directly attached to electric motors on a vehicle, can increase the energy available to the vehicle and provide computer-free autonomous navigation toward chemical fuels in the environment and away from hazards. The voltage source uses electrochemistry to extract power from the chemical fuels, and the vehicle avoids hazards that reduce the output voltage of electrochemical kinetics.
These works present a novel technique to simultaneously steer and power vehicles and robots without computers by directly responding to a wide variety of chemical fields in their environment using electrochemistry.
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania
Advisor: James Pikul