The Terminator's shape-shifting liquid metal robots are finally here, but John Connor is completely safe

The Terminator’s shape-shifting liquid metal robots are finally here, but John Connor is completely safe

“This is a video of a robot in the shape of a person drooling to escape from a cage and then being extracted and reshaped back to its original shape.”
GIF: Wang and Pan et al. (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Science fiction is often several steps ahead of the real world when it comes to conjuring up new technologies. Way back in 1991, groundbreaking visual effects helped bring James Cameron’s shape-shifting liquid metal T-1000 robot to life. Terminator 2but 32 years later, Shape-shifting robots now exist In fact, thanks to pioneering research in phase-transformation materials.

Is this robot a perfect recreation of Robert Patrick’s T-1000 character, which can take the form of any object or even a person sampled by physical contact? No, not even close. Created by a team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, led by engineer Chengfeng Pan, this robot is also not designed to travel through time to prevent the birth of important historical figures. It is designed instead as an engineering and medical tool to complete tasks or solve problems in places where tools are hard to come by.

There are currently two ways to build bots. exist Strong and agile Robots are made of hard materials such as metal or carbon fiber, and there are robots made of Softer materials and methods This sacrifices strength for the ability to squeeze and wiggle their way to more places. This robot takes a best-of-both-worlds approach, and was inspired by sea cucumbers, whose squishy bodies can easily squeeze into tight spaces but then become rigid in mere seconds using enzymes that cause protein fibers to bond together.

Rather than relying on proteins, as detailed in a new leaf Posted in Scientific Journal ArticleThe robot is made of a newly developed phase-change material that the researchers call the “magnetic-solid-liquid-phase transition material,” or MPTM for short. Instead of requiring an external source of heat to form the shift and metamorphosis, the magnetic field causes the robot to generate its own heat through induction. You don’t need thousands of components that make a file A robot as complex as an Atlas jobThese robots consist of only two components: magnetic neodymium, iron, and boron microparticles embedded in gallium—a metal that melts at 29.8 degrees Celsius, or roughly the temperature of a hot summer day.

“This is a video of a robot removing a foreign body from a typical stomach.”
GIF: Wang and Pan et al. (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Although the researchers demonstrated this robot’s capabilities with a demonstration of a small metal Lego figure escaping from a miniature prison by melting into a liquid before being molded (manually) again — a fun nod to one Terminator 2Unforgettable scenes—The robot definitely has more practical uses. In another video shared by the researchers, a small solid lump of MPTM makes its way into a model of a human stomach before dissolving into a liquid, squirting around a foreign object to capture it, solidifying again, and then working its way out. .

All of the robot’s power is provided by an external magnetic field, allowing it to move with an astonishing level of precision. The researchers succeeded in having the robot jump over ditches, climb walls, and “break in half to cooperatively move other objects before latching together again.” In addition to medical applications, the researchers have also demonstrated industrial uses, such as a robot crawling into a machine and replacing a lost screw simply by “melting into the threaded screw socket” before hardening again.

It’s a far cry from the liquid metal robots rendered by Hollywood visual effects artists, but it’s amazing how quickly researchers have already been able to catch on with what was once just wild speculation about the future of robotics. What else was James Cameron right?

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