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If you’ve ever seen the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, you’ll probably remember one of the movie’s most terrifying scenes – when the T-1000 android, chillingly portrayed by Robert Patrick, turns to liquid metal in order to pass through metal bars, then re-forms into his original killing-machine shape on the other side.
Don’t panic – the T-1000 isn’t going into production, but scientists have created millimeter-long robots with the strength of a solid and the flexibility of a liquid. In a remarkable video, an apparent Terminator homage, the research team filmed a tiny humanoid robot liquefying itself in order to fit through the bars of a cage, then re-forming into its original shape with the help of a waiting mold.
The tiny robots are made from gallium, a non-toxic metal with a melting point of just 86 degrees F (30 °C). The researchers, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sun Yat-sen University, and Carnegie Mellon University, embedded magnetic particles into a gallium matrix. The particles allow the robot to move with the help of a magnetic field, as well as to heat up through induction, causing the gallium to melt.
The researchers say that the magnetically-controlled robots could have many useful applications, many of them biomedical, such as delivering medication, removing foreign objects from the body, fixing hard-to-reach circuits, acting as solder or as a conductor, or melting and re-forming to create a universal screw.
Not made by Cyberdyne Systems:
- The robots have already demonstrated the ability to jump long distances, climb walls, navigate obstacles, support heavy objects, and split apart into multiple entities before re-forming.
- Despite the obvious Terminator comparisons, the researchers behind the project say their inspiration actually came from sea cucumbers, whose bodies can alternate between soft and rigid, allowing them to protect themselves and increase their strength.
- Although the research suggests that these robots could have many real-world applications, there's still plenty of work to be done. For example, the human body's temperature is higher than gallium's melting point, so biomedical robots would need to be made from a gallium alloy that has yet to be investigated.