Designer creates sweating robotic armpit


June 29, 2011

A London designer has created a sweating robotic armpit, intended to make it easier for humans to relate to robots (Photo: Kevin Grennan)

A London designer has created a sweating robotic armpit, intended to make it easier for humans to relate to robots (Photo: Kevin Grennan)

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When we think of robots, we tend to think of clean, antiseptic automatons that don't suffer from yucky things like halitosis, flatulence or body odor ... unlike us humans. According to London designer Kevin Grennan, however, this difference alienates us from robots, and will keep us from ever fully accepting them as anything other than machines. His solution? Robots that secret human odors, in situations in which people would secrete those odors. While some of his odor-secreting devices are purely conceptual, he has produced a working model of at least one - a sweating robotic armpit.

Grennan was inspired to built the armpit by a research visit he made to the University of Hertfordshire, where he saw various half-finished robots made from re-appropriated everyday objects.

He envisions such synthetic sweat glands (not necessarily in an armpit format) being installed on at least three different types of industrial robots. On a bomb-disposal robot, it would release "the smell of human fear," which he says has been shown to enhance peoples' cognitive performance.

Installed on a picker robot, it would release androstadienone, a chemical found in male sweat. Androstadienone reportedly affects women's moods, so if it were dispersed on an assembly line, he believes that it could increase the productivity of female workers in the immediate vicinity.

On a surgical robot, the sweat gland would produce a mist of oxytocin, a chemical that is found in the human brain. When inhaled nasally, it is said to cause people to become more trusting. If a patient were to "meet" the robot prior to surgery, and get a whiff of its oxytocin, they might therefore feel better about the operation.

The armpit is currently on display as part of the Design Interactions graduate show, at London's Royal College of Art. Grennan is currently in the process of obtaining a Masters of Art from the institution.

It's hard to say exactly how much the sweat gland technology is intended for real-world use, and how much it's an artistic statement. "Each [robot] uses a specific property of human subconscious behavior in response to a chemical stimulus," Grennan stated. "The contrast between the physical anti-anthropomorphic nature of the machines and the olfactory anthropomorphism highlights the absurd nature of the trickery at play in all anthropomorphism."

Source: IEEE Spectrum

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

This article could be posted to verbatim \"The Onion\".

Dennis Roberts

wow! It\'s the hairy armpit bot. I really can relate so much more to those robots because of the pink hairy dripping thing.

And it\'s not even April 1.

Mental note, never buy anything \"designed\" by Kevin Grennan.


When our cyber betters rise up to extinguish our smelly selves, THIS will be the reason they do it.

But seriously, shouldn\'t we be working on making our creations and ourselves more sublime, rather than lowering everything we create to match our flaws and limitations--why hobble them with things we don\'t even accept about ourselves? I\'m not against contextually appropriate sweat or a little pheromonal rush (in a private moment) every now and then--but I don\'t even want to smell my own kind on the street--why would I want to smell a robot\'s stinky pits?


I\'m having a really really hard time trying to figure out how those disgusting things would improve our relation with our robot friends. lol

To be honest, whom in this earth would like or even accept to be operated by a sweating med robot?

Even if liberating those odors could really improve performance of the workers they should be released in a less disgusting manner.


One of the huge benefits of a robot must be it doesn\'t smell like a human!

Paul Fletcher CEO

Could they spend time develop something a little bit more useful liked say a robot that can cook or clean toilet? Their parents must be proud with this sweating armpit achievement.

James Ng

What\'s next? The farting robot with bad breath? Maybe one the needs to go for a whiz every hour and won\'t lift up the toilet set, or stinks out the bathroom.

What an utterly daft idea. no thanks. I prefer my robots sans sweat glands.

Perhaps work on a robot with personality, to make it more relate-able, rather than focussing on the less desirable by products of us organic life forms.


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