Revolutionary Melting Robot Invented by Scientists Can Escape Confinement

In order to accomplish its goals, this miniature robot can melt, slide through barriers, and then solidify again. The liquid metal microparticles used to construct the metal microbot, which can be steered and reshaped by external magnetic fields, have been likened to Robert Patrick’s cyborg assassin T-1000 from the Terminator film series, who could morph his way around solid objects before going on a murderous rampage.

Revolutionary Melting Robot Invented by Scientists Can Escape Confinement

The creators of this robot, however, are optimistic that their work can be put to good use, especially in therapeutic and mechanical contexts, where it can access hitherto inaccessible areas. The robot was demonstrated as part of research into magnetoactive phase transitional matter, or metal microparticles, which have the ability to change shape, move swiftly, respond to commands, and carry several times their own weight.

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Researchers used a composite of low-melting-point metals to construct the robot, which they detailed in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Matter.

When asked about his discovery and the comparisons to the Terminator movies, Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who co-authored the study, told The Washington Post, This material can achieve Terminator-2-like performance, including fast movement and heavy load-bearing when it is in its solid state and shape-changing in its liquid state.

“Potentially, this material system can be used for applications in flexible electronics, health care, and robotics.”

Scientists raised the robot’s temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) by blasting it with magnetic fields at alternating currents, and in 1 minute and 20 seconds, it went from a solid to a liquid. The figurine’s malleability was displayed when it was turned into liquid metal and guided through the tight confines of its sealed cage by additional magnets.

Scientists from Chinese, Hong Kong, and American institutions collaborated on the project, and their findings reveal the first morphable and strong material suitable for use in microbots, thereby solving a puzzle that has long baffled the creators of microscopic robots.

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The robot’s fluid state allowed for its lengthening, splitting, and merging. When solid, it could be directed at speeds of more than 3 miles per hour and could carry loads up to 30 times its own weight. Due to the combination, a robot built from the material might be used to install electronics in inconvenient locations, such as serving as a makeshift screw or for electronic soldering in confined spaces.

Revolutionary Melting Robot Invented by Scientists
Revolutionary Melting Robot Invented by Scientists

Scientists also showed that the robot could be used to successfully remove a mock foreign object from a human stomach model. The researchers guided the solid-form robot, which was less than 0.4 inches wide, through the artificial organ until it found the intruder.

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The metal was melted by magnetic fields controlled from outside the chamber, extended to envelop the object, and then allowed to cool back into a solid, at which point it was able to tow the foreign object out of the chamber. This material’s versatility is only the latest innovation in the rapidly growing field of micro-robotics, where researchers are scrambling to find practical uses for microrobots in fields like medicine and industry.

Robots have recently been developed that are small enough to crawl through human arteries, smart enough to be taught to swim, and light enough to soar through the air using only their tiny onboard power supplies.

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Professor of Robotics at ETH Zurich and study outsider Brad Nelson told The Washington Post, We’re still early in the discovery of what kind of materials can achieve this. He also notes that therapeutic applications of micro-robotics, such as medicine delivery to the brain or the treatment of blood clots, are among the most exciting areas of research in the field at the present time.

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While Wednesday’s metal microbot is certainly educational, Nelson notes that it contains neodymium iron boron, which is harmful to humans and hence can only be used clinically if it is subsequently eliminated from the body in its entirety.

“The folks that are really looking at clinical applications of these devices, we want to look at materials that can degrade in the body, remain in the body, without causing harm to the patient,” Nelson said.

Pan admits that it’s fair to draw parallels between his work and the T-1000 from Terminator, but says those parallels have their limits. It’s still necessary to use an external heater to melt the parts of our robot that need it, and a magnetic field to regulate its motion and shape, he said. The Terminator can operate on its own, the creators say.

Nelson contends that the potential for unintentionally producing a cyborg assassin in the actual world is not a cause for alarm.

“I don’t see any possibility of injecting something into somebody, and then the microbots swim into their brain and take over their thoughts, or something crazy like that.

“The technology isn’t there, and I don’t see it going there,” Nelson says — adding that were the technology to be tested in clinical settings there would be safeguards in place to protect against such risks.

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