VIDEO: A team of researchers made a shape-shifting robot that can switch between liquid and solid — signaling a new breakthrough in robotics, study says
Scientists created a robot that can transform between liquid and solid, a study published in Matter said.
In one experiment, the robot liquefied to escape a cage.
Researchers said they hope to use this technology in the biomedical field.
Scientists say they have created a shape-shifting robot that can switch between liquid and solid, conduct electricity and have magnetic abilities, according to findings published in the scientific journal Matter.
"Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality," Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, who led the study said in a January 25 statement.
The idea was inspired by sea cucumbers, which "can very rapidly and reversibly change their stiffness," Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University, a senior author on the project, told Science News.
The Smithsonian Magazine reported that traditional robots can't always access small spaces because of their hard bodies, and more flexible ones are too fragile. The scientist decided to create a robot that shape-shifts between solid and liquid and is, therefore, both strong and flexible.
According to the Matter study, the shape-shifting robot is made out of the metal gallium. Gallium can melt at a little less than 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The scientist also put magnetic particles in the metal, which would allow them to control how the robot moves or melts with the use of magnets.
"The magnetic particles here have two roles," Majidi said in a statement. "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."
In one test, the study said the robot could liquefy to escape from a cage before the scientist reverted it back to its original shape. The robot also "jumped over moats, climbed walls, and even split in half to cooperatively move other objects around before coalescing back together," the study said.
Researchers said this robot could also be helpful in the biomedical field. In one experiment, the robot was used to move a foreign object stuck in a model stomach.
"What we're showing are just one-off demonstrations, proofs of concept, but much more study will be required to delve into how this could actually be used for drug delivery or for removing foreign objects," Majidi said.
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