Real-world Terminator arrives; robot displays shapeshifting ability

Scientists create robot that can shape shift without the help of external source of heat

Movies, a good number of them made in Hollywood, have been seen as forerunners of what could come in the future. The Terminator series was one such. Science has now brought to life aspects that the T-1000 robot featured in Terminator 2, directed by ace filmmaker James Cameron.

It has been proved that substances can change phase, as a result of change in temperature. We all know that at low temperatures, most substances are solid. However as temperature increases, they turn into the liquid state, and at scorching temperatures, they become gaseous.

A team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found that it is possible to shift solid forms to the liquid state without the help of an external source of heat.

Robot with phase-shifting characteristics

The team led by engineer Chengfeng Pan has created a robot with phase-shifting characteristics, designed as an engineering and medical tool, for completing tasks or solving problems in places where tools are not available.

Scientists adopt two types of approaches when building robots. Strong and agile bots are made from rigid materials like metal or carbon fiber. At the same time malleable materials that give up their strength and adopt the ability to squeeze and wiggle their way into more places are also used in the process.

What we have now is a new robot, developed on a combination of both these approaches. The scientists have attributed the new creation to the sea cucumber, whose spongy body can easily squeeze through narrow places. These sea cucumbers turn rigid in a matter of seconds using enzymes that cause protein fibers to bind together.

Medical, industrial uses highlighted

The robot is made from a newly-developed phase-shifting material called Magnetoactive liquid-solid Phase Transitional Matter (MPTM). Made of magnetic neodymium-iron-boron microparticles embedded in gallium, which incidentally is a metal that melts at 29.8 °Celsius. A magnetic field is deployed to aid the robot generate its own heat through induction, it has been reported.

It is being foreseen that the newly developed robot will come in handy in medical applications as well as industrial sites. The properties that help it crawl into machines and replace loose or missing screws by simply melting into the threaded screw socket before solidifying again could be a major leap in daily industrial use.

Sanjeev Ramachandran

A journalist with 23 years of experience, Sanjeev has worked with reputed media houses such as Business Standard, The Ne More »

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