Shape-Shifting Robots Possible Reality in Near Future
Engineers will be interested in a new discovery from researchers at North Carolina State. Straight from the movie series, Terminator, liquid metals are now a reality. The “T-1000” liquid metal shape-shifting assassin may soon be a reality as well. The self-propulsion and shape-shifting capabilities of liquid metal alloy have captured the attention of researchers and science fiction geeks around the world.
Low melting point alloys, called gallium, that are liquid at room temperature, are known as liquid metal. A team of chemical and biomolecular researchers from North Carolina State have discovered a way to manipulate liquid metals by applying low voltage. A mix of gallium and indium results in a high surface tension that becomes a metal blob. The oxide or outer section of the metals may be removed or deposited. The surface tension between the metal and the surrounding fluid may be lowered.
An electrochemical reaction was demonstrated by applying less than one volt of electrical charge to the metals. The action resulted in an oxide layer on the surface of the metal lowering the tension. In this state, gravity causes the metal to flatten from its’ natural bead form. The researchers discovered by flipping the polarity of the metal from positive to negative the results are reversed. By controlling the movement of liquid metals, scientists may break or complete circuits, reshape antennas or eventually manufacture Terminator style robots. The same lab has experimented with 3-D printing of liquid metals.
Researchers at Tsinghua University in China, are experimenting with metal alloy containing mostly gallium to develop a shape-shifting device. The team discovered by adding a small piece of aluminum to the mixture created a reaction resulting in hydrogen bubbles. The hydrogen bubbles allowed the device to move at will for approximately an hour. A galvanic battery is created by generating electricity to the alloy. The galvanic battery allows the device to form asymmetric patterns which allows rotations in the liquid metal to move in a particular direction.
*Photo courtesy of Quicksilver by Keith Moseley at Flickr’s Creative Commons.