Liquid metal that has the ability to reshape itself into just about seems straight out of science fiction – but this experimental new robot is no human hunting T-1000 Terminator, it’s reality.
Using experimental alloys the new robot was unveiled on March 3rd by its Chinese creators who believe it could be a step closer to thinking artificial intelligence with the ability to change shape.
"The soft machine looks rather intelligent and [can] deform itself according to the space it voyages in – just like [the] Terminator does from the science-fiction film," Jing Liu from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China told The New Scientist.
"These unusual behaviours perfectly resemble the living organisms in nature.”
But while the experimental alloy exhibits life-like qualities, it is still a far cry from the androids of the silver screen.
The shape-shifting liquid metal evokes Terminator antagonist T-1000 (Hemdale/Pacific Western/Orion Pictures)
Composed largely of the chemical element gallium, a metal that assumes liquid form at below 30°C, the robot is powered exclusively through chemical reactions.
A charge imbalance across the metal drop creates a pressure differential that propels the robot forward.
When suspended in hydrogen hydroxide, the aluminium “fuel” reacts to create hydrogen bubbles, which in turn adds to this propulsion.
The alloy shape-shifts when an electrical current is applied, snapping back to its previous drop shape the moment the current is removed.
Referred to by its inventors as a “soft machine”, the liquid metal robot was created as part of a long-term research project aimed at developing flexible, intelligent robots capable of altering their shape on the fly.
But technophobes fear not – while this robot holds promise, it’s not quite the stuff of Skynet nightmares.
"Such liquid robots will be a seed of artificial life seen in some movies," Taro Toyota of the University of Tokyo told The New Scientist.
"I would raise Flubber instead of Terminator 2."
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