The robot liquified and came out of a prison in the experiment.
All of us have seen T-1000, the shapeshifting robot from 'Terminator 2'. The character in the 1991 film gave goosebumps to fans and made science enthusiasts wonder if such a thing will ever be possible. But in 30 years, scientists have made it possible. Earlier this month, they announced the creation of a robot that can transition back and forth between solid and liquid states, allowing it to navigate through numerous obstacles and environments without compromising on strength. Researchers applied the technology in different scenarios to demonstrate the capabilities of the robot.
The research was led by a team of scientists from China who said that the ability to overcome the limitations makes the robot useful in areas such as electronic assembly and the medicine field.
"Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality," engineer Chengfeng Pan of The Chinese University of Hong Kong was quoted as saying by Science Alert.
The study detailing this breakthrough has been published in Matter. It describes how microscopic magnetic particles were embedded into liquid metal, and how those particles heated and cooled the metal based on adjusting the magnetic functions.
A video of the robot changing its state has also been released by the researchers along with the study. It shows the small robot locked up in a prison. Seconds later, it is seen melting to the ground - like the T-1000 in Terminator 2 - by increasing its temperature and coming out of the cell. It then immediately regains its shape after coming out by cooling down.
Scientists said they were inspired by sea cucumber, which can alter the stiffness of their tissues to improve load capacity and limit physical damage.
To create the robot, the researchers used gallium, a soft metal that has a melting point of 29.76 degrees Celsius. They embedded a mixture of gallium with magnetic particles, which created a "magnetoactive solid-liquid phase transitional machine", according to scientists.
"The magnetic particles here have two roles. 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," mechanical engineer Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the authors of the study, said.
The scientists are now aiming real-world applications of the machine, but they say it needs tweaking for that.