Like the bad guy in “Terminator 2″. A group of engineers has created a small robot made of a new material that allows it to liquefy and return to its original shape with the help of magnets.
The robot resembles a Lego doll in shape and size and the authors of the study published by Mater subjected it to an obstacle course, mobility tests and shape changes.
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One of the challenges involved liquefying himself so he could escape through some bars and recompose himself afterwards, but he was also able to extract a foreign object from a stomach model and function as a smart soldering iron to repair circuitry oozing out of it.
In addition to changing quickly and reversibly from a liquid to a solid state, the robot is magnetic and can conduct electricity.
Chinese and American engineers created the new phase change material – called “magnetoactive solid-liquid phase transition machine”- embedding magnetic particles in gallium, a metal with a very low melting point (29.8 °C).
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The magnetic particles make the material respond to an alternating magnetic field, so that it can, by induction, heat it and cause the phase change; They also give the robot mobility and make it do so in response to the magnetic field, said study lead author Carmel Majidim, from Carnegie Mellon University (USA).
Until now, phase change materials have relied on heat guns, electrical currents, or other external heat sources to induce the transformation from solid to liquid.
The new material also features an extremely fluid liquid phase compared to other similar materials, whose “liquid” phases are more viscous.
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With the help of a magnetic field, the robots jumped moats, climbed walls or split in half to cooperatively move other objects before coming back together.
Another of the capabilities of the new material is its use as a mechanical “screw” to assemble parts in spaces that are difficult to access, melting into the threaded bushing of the screw and then solidifying.
What has been achieved so far are “one-off demonstrations,” but “many more studies will be needed to delve into how it could actually be used to deliver drugs or extract foreign objects,” Majidi added.
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