Remember T-1000 from the 1991 blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day? Well, it's real now! Scientists have created a groundbreaking invention – a robotic arm that can reshape itself to fit in tight spaces and then liquefy and regain its original shape. This shape-shifting robotic is the first of its kind and as you can imagine has endless potential applications ranging from search and rescue operations to medical robotics.
The robot was developed by a team of engineers and scientists primarily from China. It features a unique design, comprised of interconnected modules of magnetic levitation and soft actuators, enabling it to move in any direction and reshape itself with impressive flexibility.
It can liquify, allowing it to penetrate through rubble, debris, and other tight spaces. Once it has reached its destination, it can regain its rigid form and perform useful tasks. The arm is also able to change its shape and stiffness depending on the task at hand.
A sea cucumber was one of the inspirations for the project. It can alter the stiffness of their tissues to improve load capacity and limit physical damage. For the actual physical substance, they used magnets and gallium which has a melting point of 29.76 degrees Celsius.
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The possibilities of this robotic arm are immense. In search and rescue operations, it can be used to reach victims trapped in hard-to-access places. In the medical field, it could be used to perform delicate tasks with high accuracies, such as surgeries or drug delivery.
Engineer Chengfeng Pan of The Chinese University of Hong Kong told Science Alert, "Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality."
However, there are still ways to go on this becoming a practical robot as aside from the low melting point, Gallium is also well known to corrupt many metals it comes into contact with like Aluminum, Steel, and Copper.
The team of engineers has already performed successful tests with the robotic arm and is now working on making it more durable and powerful. In the future, the team hopes to build a full-sized robotic arm with the same capabilities and see it put to practical use.
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