Is “Judgment Day” here?
Hong Kong scientists bridged the gap between sci-fi and real life after creating a robot that can transform from solid to liquid like a real-life T-1000 robot from “Terminator 2.” A study detailing the cybernetic shapeshifter was published last month in the journal Matter.
“Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality,” said Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who spearheaded the groundbreaking study, said in a statement.
The robot, dubbed “magnetoactive phase transitional matter (MPTM),” was reportedly created to combine the structural integrity and strength of traditional robots with the flexibility of their soft counterpart, Smithsonian magazine reported. (Think how the liquid metal T-1000 from “Terminator 2” can both phase through walls and form swords with its limbs)
MPTM was inspired by the sea cucumber, a marine invertebrate that can “can very rapidly and reversibly change their stiffness,” according to senior author and mechanical engineer Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University.
“The challenge for us as engineers is to mimic that in the soft materials systems,” he said.
To accomplish this seemingly physics-defying feat, researchers created the robot out of a metal called gallium — which has a low melting point of about 86 degrees Fahrenheit. They then infused it with magnetic particles, which allow scientists to control how they melt or move.
“The magnetic particles here have two roles,” explained Majidi. “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.”
He added, “But the magnetic particles also give the robots mobility and the ability to move in response to the magnetic field.”
After melting like mercury, the material then immediately reverts back to its original solid form via ambient cooling.
An accompanying video shows the MPTM liquefying to escape a cage before glomming back together, again much like the iconic jailbreak scene from “Terminator 2.” Other feats included jumping up to 20 times its body length, scaling walls, and even soldering a circuit board, Smithsonian mag reported.
Scientists speculate that the invention could revolutionize the biomedical industry. In another clip, MPTM is seen removing a ball from a model human stomach by melting and enveloping it, then re-solidifying and transporting the sphere out of the body.
“We’re pushing this material system in more practical ways to solve some very specific medical and engineering problems,” said Pan.
However, Majidi said that further research is required to determine specifically “how these robots could be used within a biomedical context.” “What we’re showing are just one-off demonstrations, proofs of concept, but much more study will be required to delve into how this could actually be used for drug delivery or for removing foreign objects,” the researcher admitted.
In a similar case in April, the Chinese University Of Hong Kong scientists created a state-of-the-art “slime robot” that can be magnetically manipulated to retrieve inadvertently ingested objects and other real-world applications.