PARIS: The concept of soft robotics has been stirring imaginations for several years now. It encompasses a host of research and projects relating to soft, elastic or deformable materials and structures, applied to the field of robotics.
In theory, such research could one day lead to the creation of robots capable of self-repair or even self-duplication.
This latest experiment marks a new milestone, with a small robot (in the shape of a Lego minifigure) that is able to turn itself into a liquid, before being able to return to its initial, solid form.
To demonstrate its performance, researchers have filmed it turning into a liquid to pass between the bars of a cage, the goal being to use this solid-to-liquid transition to overcome an obstacle.
When watching the video, moviegoers might immediately think of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and its fearsome robot T-1000, itself capable of similar feats. But unlike the T-1000, this robot does not reform itself alone. In this case, human intervention is still needed to get the liquid back into a mould.
This feat is made possible thanks to an alloy based on gallium, whose properties allow it to transition from solid to liquid at 30 degrees Celsius. It is a magnetic induction field that heats the matter and allows it to melt easily.
Thanks to the magnetic field, the liquid particles then continue to move, after the change in state of the minifigure, until, in this particular experiment, it leaves its cage. It is then possible to make the matter regain its initial solid state, by cooling it and putting it back into a mould.
Even if this research is still at a very early stage, researchers are already talking about the first potential practical uses.
In miniature form, this type of robot could act inside the body, for example, to help expel a foreign body from the digestive tract or to administer drugs to a specific organ. Once its mission is complete, it will liquefy.
In another field, the researchers also mention the possibility of one day creating universal screws and screwdrivers.
The research, including the video of the scientists’ magnetoactive solid-liquid phase-transitional matter, is available on the website of the Matter journal.