T-1000, a self-healing killer robot in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, has inspired a team of Chinese scientists to create a liquid metal-driven palm-sized robot equipped with plastic wheels, a small lithium battery, and a few drops of liquid metal; reported Hong Kong’s “South China Morning Post” website on October, 25th.
Li Xiangpeng, a professor in the field of robotics at Suzhou University, has said regarding the project, “We were inspired by the T-1000 in the film ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’” Xiangpeng has been working with Zhang Shiwu of the University of Science and Technology of China as well as researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia to design a prototype of the liquid metal robot. The American Journal of Advanced Materials has recently published the result of Xiangpeng’s research.
In the future, we expect to further develop software robots using liquid metal, which can be used to perform special tasks such as searching for earthquake victims. You can enter a space that people cannot enter after changing the shape. – Tang Shiyang, a researcher at the University of Wollongong and a participant researcher
According to Xiangpeng, the research was started six years ago when material scientists discovered the properties like high electrical conductivity, controlled surface tension, and extreme flexibility which made liquid metal alloys uniquely useful. “We believe that liquid metal alloys help develop self-reconfigurable robots that can change their shape. Moreover, since I watched the movie when I was 10 years old, I have been thinking of creating robots like the T-1000 flexible robot,” Shiyang added.
Although the prototype is far from the killer robots of the Terminator series, it is nevertheless an innovation that shall make researchers take a step towards creating similar organisms made with highly compliant materials.
Considering the flexibility and high energy conversion rate of micro-nano robots, they can transport cancer drugs and find tumour cells in the human body. – Xiangpenghas
The report suggests that Xiangpeng and his team has made major breakthroughs when they created a robot whose motion shall be triggered by the change brought about in gallium-based liquid metal by voltage transformations. Gallium, a soft, silver-like material resembles mercury in its liquid-alloy state and has the appearance of water droplets, and is used in electronic circuits and semiconductor.
In detailing the application of gallium as used in the robot, the report says that the liquid metal alloy droplets have been sealed in a solution tube which changes shape to change the center of gravity of the entire device, thus rotating the wheel. This process of de-centering and re-centering is controlled by changing the voltage of the liquid, which prompts the wheel to be directed to a particular direction on a flat surface.
Tang Shiyang has said, “Next, we intend to use multiple wheels to move it in a three-dimensional environment,” while Li Xiangpeng has added that the team is also working on a robot similar to the BB-8 that appeared in the recent Star Wars series of movies, with a hemispherical head that can move freely. The report finally adds that scientists may even use the new way of rolling the wheels to innovate cars driven without fossil fuels or motors.
Li Xiangpeng is of the opinion that, “Maybe after 10 years, liquid metal robots will exist.”