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Chinese scientists develop sea cucumber-inspired shape-shifting robot

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-02-07 17:11
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GUANGZHOU -- If the shape-shifting android in Terminator 2 was stunning, a new design for a liquid robot has brought the film's marvel closer to reality.

Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University, Zhejiang University and Carnegie Mellon University have developed the deformable, magnetically-controlled liquid metal after they were inspired by a sea cucumber that can reversibly alter the stiffness of its tissue in order to improve its load capacity.

In a demonstration video, a humanoid robot made of the liquid metal was seen escaping confinement from a cage by melting into liquid and then restoring its figure automatically.

The researchers embedded a magnetoactive phase transitional matter in liquid metal so that it can reversibly switch between solid and liquid phases by heating with an alternating magnetic field or through ambient cooling, according to the study published recently in the journal Matter.

The robot has shown high mechanical strength, high load capacity and rapid locomotion speed in its solid phase, and excellent shape adaptability in its liquid phase such as elongation, splitting, and merging.

Furthermore, the robot in the solid state with a three-millimeter body length can achieve a jump height of 60 millimeters, when controlled by magnets, according to the study.

The design with dynamic shape reconfigurability can be used to make shape-shifting screws for smart assembly, or clear away foreign bodies in the stomach, the researchers said.

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