This new shape-shifting, liquid robot can break out of a cage.


This tiny robot can melt, escape from prison by slipping through safety bars, and then transform into a solid and complete tasks.

The metal microbot, made of liquid metal microparticles that can be manipulated and reshaped by external magnetic fields, has been widely compared to The Terminator – the indestructible character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film series. A cyborg assassin, who at one point morphed around a solid prison. Bars before launching a murderous rampage in Los Angeles

But, unlike the movie, the inventors of this robot believe their invention can be put to good use — especially in medical and mechanical settings — by reaching hard-to-reach places.

The robot was introduced as part of a study of metallic microparticles, known as a type of magnetically active phase transition material, which can change shape, move quickly, and be easily controlled. Can walk, and lift many times its own body weight.

The scientists behind the research, who published their findings in the journal Matter on Wednesday, built the robot using an alloy of metals with a low melting point.

“This material can achieve Terminator-2-like performance, including high-speed movement and heavy load-bearing when it is in its solid state, and shape-shifting in its liquid state,” Cheng Feng Pen, Hong Kong. An engineer from the Chinese University of Kei who participates. The author of the study told The Washington Post, when asked about the comparisons to The Terminator.

“Potentially, this material system could be used for applications in flexible electronics, healthcare, and robotics.”

By blasting the robot over alternating currents with magnetic fields, the scientists raised its temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35C) and turned it from a solid to a liquid state in 1 minute 20 seconds. Once transformed into liquid metal, the sculpture can be further moved by magnets through the narrow spaces of its closed cage – revealing its shape.

According to scientists from Chinese, Hong Kong and American universities who worked on the research – this is the first time that materials capable of both shape-shifting and carrying heavy loads have been identified for use in microbots. Makers who had previously struggled to achieve both form and strength in their designs.

In its liquid form, the robot can be made to stretch, split and merge. In solid form, it was driven at speeds over 3 mph and carried heavy objects up to 30 times its own weight. The combination means that robots made of the material could potentially be used to fix electronics in hard-to-reach places, for example acting as makeshift screws or soldering electronics in tight spaces. of the.

Magnetically active phase transition material for foreign body clearance from the stomach (Video: Cheng Yuan Wang, Cheng Feng Pen, Yuanshi Zhang, Zhipeng Chen, Carmel Majidi, Lilin Jiang)

In another experiment, the researchers demonstrated how a robot could be deployed inside a model human stomach to remove an unwanted foreign object. The scientists guided the solid-shaped robot through a fake organ measuring less than 0.4 inches in width until it detected a foreign object. It was then melted by remotely controlled magnetic fields, spread around the object in its new liquid metal state—and once safely embraced—cooled back, allowing it to A foreign object can be moved out of the chamber.

The shape-shifting material is the latest in a string of advances in the growing field of miniature robotics — as scientists race to identify potential medical and mechanical applications for tiny robots in everyday life.

Recent micro-robotic inventions include robots that are small enough to potentially crawl through human arteries, intelligent enough to be taught to swim, and others that can be powered by tiny aircraft power supplies. I can fly.

“We’re still exploring what kind of materials can do that,” Brad Nelson, a professor of robotics at ETH Zurich, told The Washington Post. One of the most exciting areas of research in microrobotics right now is in clinical applications — particularly for drug delivery to the brain or the treatment of blood clots, he adds.

Nelson says that while the metal microbot unveiled on Wednesday is instructive, its use of neodymium iron boron — toxic to humans — means it’s only clinically useful. It will remain safe for use in humans if it is subsequently completely removed from the body.

“For people who are really looking at clinical applications of these devices, we want to see materials that can degrade in the body, stay in the body, without harming the patient,” Nelson said. said

For Penn the comparisons between his creation and the Terminator are understandable—but limited in how far they can be taken. “Our robot still needs an external heater to melt and an external magnetic field to control movement and shape change,” he said. “The Terminator is completely autonomous.”

Nelson also argues that the risk of inadvertently creating a real-life Terminator isn’t something to worry about.

“I don’t see any possibility of injecting something into someone, and then having microbots swim into their brain and take over their thoughts, or something crazy like that.

“The technology isn’t there, and I don’t see it getting there,” Nelson says — adding that the technology will be tested in clinical settings with safeguards in place to protect against such risks. .

Naomi Shanin contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment