A research team from China's Tsinghua University are in the process of creating liquid metal devices and tools to make robots and the idea seems to be taken straight out of the plot of "Terminator."
In their latest breakthrough, the researchers have reached a stage where a denser-than-water material infused with tiny glass beads could be the answer to transformable machines and exoskeletons that, until today, were only a reality in sci-fi movies.
Chinese scientists design liquid-metal robots
Like mercury, liquid metal also has an extremely low melting point, can float on water, and does not become solid at normal temperatures. To further the technology, the scientists previously developed a controlled actuation of a gallium liquid metal mixed with indium, which could allow them to produce wheeled robots that run on liquid metal droplets.
In order to achieve this, the team stirred in microscopic glass beads filled with air. Creating a liquid metal robot will open up a world of possibilities for special-use and micro-robots that will be able to adapt to difficult environments underwater or in emergency first responder situations.
In a paper published in the online journal Advanced Functional Materials last month, lead study author Jing Liu acknowledges that the material "still maintains excellent conformability, electric conductivity, and stiffness variety under temperature regulation. Such material is further adopted to build various complicated structures through origami or force regulation, representing various application scenarios and can be reused for eight times without evident loss in function."
Builds on earlier research inspired by Terminator 2's T-1000
This technological advancement builds on research discoveries made in 2018, when Li Xiangpeng, a robotics professor at Soochow University in the Chinese city of Suzhou, made a tiny robot powered by liquid metal. The robot was inspired by Robert Patrick's popular shape-shifting T-1000 character from "Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The robot included a plastic wheel, a lithium battery, and drops of liquid metal. The palm-sized bot's wheel would start rolling once the liquid metal shifted its centre of gravity by making changes to the battery's voltage level.
"In the future, we expect to further develop soft robots incorporating liquid metal that could be used in special missions such as searching for and rescuing earthquake victims, since they can change shape to slide under doors or make it through spaces humans can't get into," researcher Tang Shiyang told South China Morning News.
Well, it's not a killer robot that can squeeze through metal bars or put itself back together after being split open by a shotgun, but it's a huge step forward towards making liquid metal machines that can replicate humanoid shapes.