This robot may not look like much. In fact, we're absolutely sure it doesn't look like much. But if you give it a chance, it'll be your new best friend on those cold and lonely winter nights as it stores up heat and re-emits it to keep you nice and toasty.
Under that featureless cubizoid exterior, Hagent, as the robot is called, has some wheels, some sensors, and a big pile of phase-change material. Phase-change material (or PCM for short) is something that stores or releases energy when it changes from a solid to a liquid (or any other combination of phases) or vice versa. So for example, let's say you've got a cup of coffee that's really really hot. You could put some kind of PCM into it, and the PCM would melt, absorbing the excess heat and making your coffee drinkable. Then, as the coffee cooled down, the PCM would re-solidify, releasing all that stored heat keeping your coffee warm for much longer. Sounds like a great idea, right? Right!
Hagent takes that heat storage concept and mobilizes it for the purposes of using energy more efficiently and keeping you cozy when it's cold out. The robot can sense heat (like an oven, a fire, or anything else), and when it does, it drives over and hangs out, letting it's pile o' PCM suck down as much energy as possible. Then, it'll follow you around, acting like a little space heater as its PCM re-solidifies, up until the PCM has emitted all of its stored up heat. It's cute, and it's mostly free, since all Hagent does is take heat that you've already produced and shift it around a little bit.
Created by Andreas Meinhardt and Daniel Abendroth from Germany, Hagent is still at a prototype phase. At the moment, the robot appears to be powered by batteries, but if there was some way of using, say, a Stirling engine to charge it up, you'd have yourself a heat-powered, heat-seeking, heat-storing heater robot. Yes, that would be totally hot.
Watch the prototype in action in the video below.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.