Engineering 101

Video: Person-Shaped Robot Liquifies and Escapes Jail

Inspired by sea cucumbers—yes, you read that right—engineers designed mini robots that shift between liquid and solid states. The shape-shifting robots are magnetic and can conduct electricity. Researchers put the robots through an obstacle course of mobility and shape-morphing tests and published their findings in the journal Matter.

A new phase-shifting material called a “Magnetoactive solid-liquid phase transitional machine” embeds magnetic particles in gallium, a metal with a very low melting point (29.8 °C). The “soft” robots are flexible but weak, and their movements are difficult to control.

 

Existing phase-shifting materials rely on heat guns, electrical currents, or other external heat sources to induce solid-to-liquid transformation. The new material also has an extremely fluid liquid phase compared to other phase-changing materials.

The robots jumped over moats, climbed walls, and even split in half to cooperatively move other objects around. In one video, a robot shaped like a person liquifies to ooze through a grid, after which it is extracted and remolded back into its original shape.

Is anyone else getting a Terminator 2 vibe?

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