Scientists have created robots that can change shape from a solid to a liquid state. This allows them to do impressive things like jump, climb or even burst out of a cage in a manner reminiscent of the T-1000 robots from Terminator.
The shape and movements of robots are controlled by magnetic fields, an approach that could lead to new biomedical and engineering technologies such as targeted drug delivery, circuit assembly, and more.
"Soft" robots are much more malleable than their hard counterparts, but they are not as strong, fast or easily controlled as solid machines. But now an international team of engineers has developed a material made of gallium metal embedded with tiny magnetic microparticles.
This "magnetoactive phase transitional matter" (MPTM) uniquely combines the high mechanical strength, load capacity and fast movement speed of the solid phase with an "excellent morphological adaptability (elongation, splitting and fusion) in the liquid phase", according to a study which was published on Wednesday in Matter magazine.
"Scientists have been working on these small-scale magnetically responsive robots and machines for quite some time," said Carmel Majidi, head of the Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the new study, told Motherboard.
"At the same time, my group is pioneering a number of techniques using liquid metals – metals like gallium that have a very low melting point."
“This is one of the attempts to merge these two approaches” and “see what happens when we combine them together. The hope was for a 'best of both worlds' scenario where we could exploit the high electrical conductivity and phase change capabilities of gallium metal with the magnetic response of magnetic microparticle systems."