A team of scientists has created a tiny robot that can melt itself and then resolidify on command in order to pass through tight spaces.
Remember Terminator 2’s terrifying antagonist, the advanced T-1000 shapeshifting android? It was made out of this liquid metal that allowed it to melt and then resolidify and cause all kinds of havoc. Well, guess what? Scientists claim to have created a real-life version of the T-1000, a small robot that can melt and resolidify itself on command, enabling it to easily escape from confined spaces. There’s even a video of it performing this neat trick, and while it may not be as impressive as the T-1000 Terminator, it’s definitely an impressive, if somewhat scary, look into the future.
Photo: Wang and Pan et al.
To create this rudimentary real-life T-1000, the international team of scientists embedded microscopic chunks of magnetic neodymium, boron and iron into liquid gallium, a metal that has a very low melting point. Then, by using magnets to command the miniature robot to melt and turn into a puddle, they guided it through the bars of a cage, before having it resolidify into the original shape on the other side.
“The magnetic particles here have two roles,” Carmel Majidi, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement. “One is that they make the material responsive to an alternating magnetic field, so you can, through induction, heat up the material and cause the phase change. But the magnetic particles also give the robots mobility and the ability to move in response to the magnetic field.”
Interestingly, the team behind this project took inspiration not from James Cameron’s blockbuster but from sea cucumbers, marine creatures that can switch from stiff to soft states when the need arises.
In a series of tests, the magnetically-controlled miniature robots were able to jump over obstacles, scale walls, and split in half in order to perform a series of tasks, like soldering circuits, delivering medication, and clearing foreign objects from a model stomach.
Photo: Terminator 2
“Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality,” Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and lead researcher on the project, said.
Scientists believe that this shapeshifting technology can have medical and technological applications in the future. Just make sure it’s never weaponized, we’ve all seen Terminator 2…