Scientists have created a shape-shifting humanoid robot that can liquefy and transform
(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have made a breakthrough in robotics: a shape-shifting robot can switch between liquid and metallic states to move through difficult environments without sacrificing strength.
Because they can be both soft and hard, small, sea cucumber-inspired robots can overcome the limitations of robots that are only one or the other, and thus can provide great utility in fields such as electronics assembly and even medical applications.
Researchers have created robots to navigate obstacle courses, remove or deliver objects to a model human stomach, and even turn into liquid to get out of a cage before returning to their original humanoid form.
“Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid States gives them more functionality,” says engineer Chengfeng Pan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in China.
There are many potential applications for small robots that can navigate places too small or confusing for humans. typical tools, from finicky repairs to targeted drug delivery.
But hard materials are not suitable for moving in confined spaces or tight angles, while softer, more flexible robots tend to be weaker and harder to control.
To find a compromise, a team of researchers led by Pan and his colleague Qingyuan Wang at Sun Yat-sen University in China turned to nature as a source of inspiration.
Animals such as sea cucumbers can change the stiffness of their tissues to increase carrying capacity and limit physical damage, while octopuses can change the stiffness of their arms for camouflage, manipulating objects, and locomotion.
To develop a robot To do something like this, the researchers needed a non-toxic material that could easily switch between soft and hard states at ambient temperatures.
They turned to gallium, a soft metal that melts at 29.76 degrees Celsius (85.57 degrees Fahrenheit) at standard pressure just a few degrees below average human body temperature. You can melt gallium just by holding it in your hand.
The researchers implanted magnetic particles into the gallium matrix, creating what they call “a magnetically active solid-liquid phase transition machine.”
“Magnetic particles play two roles here,” says mechanical engineer Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University, one of the lead authors of the group’s paper.
“First, they cause the material to respond to an alternating magnetic field, so you can inductively heat up the material and cause a phase transition. But magnetic particles also give robots mobility and the ability to move in response to a magnetic field.”
After testing whether the transition from solid to liquid is reversible (and it was), the researchers put their little robots through a series of tests.
The robots could jump over small ditches, overcome obstacles, and even split up to perform joint tasks, moving objects around before merging and solidifying again.
They even had a small humanoid version – in the shape of a Lego figure – melted. to escape the small prison cell, slip through the bars, and line up on the other side in honor of a scene from the movie Terminator 2.
The team then explored practical applications. They created a model of a human stomach and asked the robot to swallow and remove a small object contained within it think of it as a convenient way to retrieve swallowed batteries, for example and then reverse the operation, delivering the object along the way. the team hopes it can deliver drugs.
To repair circuits, robots can move along the circuits and melt on them, acting as a conductor and solder; and even act as a fastener, seeping into threaded screw holes and hardening to act as a screw without having to lock it in place.
For real applications, a phase change machine will need some tweaking. For example, since the human body has a higher melting point than pure gallium, a biomedical robot may have a gallium-based alloy matrix that will increase the melting point while maintaining functionality.
This, the researchers say, remains to be explored in detail.
“Future work should further explore how these robots can be used in a biomedical context,” says Majidi.
“That we’re only showing one-off demonstrations, proofs of concept, but much more research will be needed to understand how this could be used to deliver drugs or remove foreign objects.”
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