Home TECHNOLOGY Scientists have invented a liquid-melting robot that can escape from a cage

Scientists have invented a liquid-melting robot that can escape from a cage


This little robot can melt down, escape from a prison by sliding through secure bars, then reform into a solid, complete task.

The metallic microbot, composed of liquid metal microparticles that can be steered and reshaped by external magnetic fields, has been widely compared to the character T-1000 in “The Terminator” film franchise, a cyborg assassin played by Robert Patrick who could morphing its way around solid objects before launching into a deadly rampage.

But, unlike the movie, the inventors of this robot believe their discovery can be put to good use – especially in clinical and mechanical environments – by reaching into hard-to-reach spaces.

The robot was featured as part of a study of metallic microparticles, known as magnetoactive phase transition matter, which can transform, move quickly, be controlled easily and support many times their own body weight.

The scientists behind the study, who published their findings Wednesday in the journal Matter, created the robot using a composite of low-melting metals.

“This material can achieve performance similar to Terminator-2, including fast movement and heavy load when in the solid state, and shape-shifting in the liquid state,” said Chengfeng Pan. , an engineer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who co-authored the study, told the Washington Post when asked about his discovery and the comparisons made with the Terminator movies.

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

By blasting the robot with alternating current magnetic fields, scientists raised its temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and turned it from a solid state to a liquid state in 1 minute 20 seconds. Once transformed into liquid metal, the figure could be steered through the narrow gaps of its cage locked by more magnets, demonstrating its morphability.

This is the first time that a material capable of both shape-shifting and carrying heavy loads has been identified for use in microbots, according to scientists from universities in China, Hong Kong and the United States who worked on the study. – solve a puzzle that confused miniature robot makers who previously struggled to achieve both morphability and strength in their designs.

In its liquid form, the robot could be made to elongate, divide and merge. In solid form, it was steered at speeds over 3 mph and carried heavy objects up to 30 times its own weight. The combination means a robot made from the material could be deployed to fix electronics in hard-to-reach places, for example working as a makeshift screw or for electronics soldering in tight places.

Magnetoactive Phase Transition Material for Stomach Foreign Body Removal (Video: Qingyuan Wang, Chengfeng Pan, Yuanxi Zhang, Zhipeng Chen, Carmel Majidi, Lelun Jiang)

In another experiment, the researchers demonstrated how the robot could be deployed inside a model human stomach to remove an unwanted foreign object. Scientists steered the solid-shaped robot, measuring less than 0.4 inches in width, through the fake organ until it located the foreign object. It was then melted by remote-controlled magnetic fields, stretched into its new state of liquid metal around the object – and once tight – cooled into a solid, allowing it to tow the foreign object out of the chamber.

The shape-shifting material is the latest in a series of developments in the burgeoning field of miniature robotics – as scientists work to identify potential medical and mechanical applications for small robots in everyday life .

Recent microrobotic innovations include robots small enough to potentially crawl through human arteries, smart enough to learn to swim, and others able to fly through the air powered by tiny on-board power supplies.

“We’re still in the early stages of exploring what kinds of materials can do this,” Brad Nelson, a robotics professor at ETH Zurich who wasn’t part of the study, told The Washington Post. One of the most exciting areas of research in microrobotics right now is in clinical applications, especially drug delivery to the brain or the treatment of blood clots, he adds.

While the metal microbot unveiled on Wednesday is instructive, its use of neodymium iron boron – toxic to humans – means it would only be clinically safe for use inside humans if completely removed. of the body afterwards,” Nelson said.

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

For Pan, comparisons between his creation and the Terminator character T-1000 are understandable – but limited in how much they can be taken. “Our robot still needs an external heater for melting and an external magnetic field to control movement and shape-shifting,” he said. “Terminator is fully self-contained.”

Nelson also argues that the risk of inadvertently creating an actual cyborg assassin is not something to worry about.

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

“The technology is not there, and I don’t see it going there,” Nelson says – adding that if the technology were to be tested in a clinical setting, there would be safeguards in place to protect against such risks.

Naomi Schanen contributed to this report

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