Shape-Shifting Robot Melts To Escape "Prison Cell"


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A team of international scientists has built a shape-shifting robot (Credit: Matter/ Wang and Pan et al)

An international team of scientists has created a robot that seamlessly goes from a solid to a liquid state and back again. The feat may sound magical. But it is rooted in science.

The video, released on January 25, 2023, shows the 11-millimeter humanoid robot behind a cage. A magnet underneath allows the remotely-controlled bot to pace back and forth like a frustrated prisoner. It then melts into a liquid and trickles out between the bars. Once outside, the robot hardens and regains its original shape.

In another test, the tiny machine helps remove a foreign object from a human stomach model. The square bot melts, swallows the object, hardens, and hurries out.

The Science

The magical robot was created by embedding microscopic magnetic particles inside a gallium case. The soft metal has a very low melting point of 85.64 °F (29.8 °C). When exposed to an alternating magnetic field, the tiny particles inside the robot heat up and melt the gallium.

A more focused magnetic field allows the scientists to guide the liquid metal to its final destination. The gallium hardens when it cools. But the robot's humanoid shape can only be regained if the liquid metal is placed inside a mold.

Why do we need shape-shifting robots?

The team, led by Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, revealed their nifty invention in the journal Matters on January 25, 2023. Pan believes the shapeshifting material could be used "for applications in flexible electronics, health care, and robotics.”

The robot is still just a prototype. It is far from becoming a reality. But the future looks promising and . . . a little scary!



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