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Liquid metal discovery paves way for shape-shifting robots

Thursday, April 09, 2015 - 01:54

Scientists in China produce droplets of liquid metal that can change shape and move of their own accord, bringing researchers a step closer to creating a ''Terminator-style'' shape-shifting robot. Matthew Stock reports.

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A liquid metal, shape-shifting robot like the T-1000 from the Terminator movies could be a step closer to reality. This droplet of liquid metal alloy can change shape when an electrical current is applied to it. But it's what happens when a flake of aluminium is added that has got scientists really excited. The metal consumes the aluminium, creating hydrogen bubbles that allow it to move of its own accord - in effect, fuelling itself. Professor Liu Jing (pron. Lee-UOH Jing) from China's Tsinghua (pron. Sing-whar) University is leading the research. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) PROFESSOR AT DEPARTMENT OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING, TSINGHUA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, DR LIU (pron. Lee-UOH) JING, SAYING: "The machine has two processes. One is to create gases like hydrogen. Part of these gases form the propulsion. There's also something important, in fact very important, which is the electricity generated behind the alloy. So this galvanic battery it creates an internal electrical power, and this type of electricity will very easily lead to stretching of the surface of the liquid metal in an asymmetrical pattern, and this pattern lead to rotations inside the liquid metal, and the process of these rotations will set the liquid metal in motion in a certain direction." Researchers say it could have a variety of medical applications, and could lead to tiny self-propelling devices for delivering medicine in blood vessels. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) PROFESSOR AT DEPARTMENT OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING, TSINGHUA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, DR LIU JING, SAYING: "At present it has potential to become a robot, but a robot for the veins. So apart from a robot for the veins it could for example be used in people's windpipes and digestive system, it may perhaps be able to carry out some medical tasks, for example transporting some medicines." Comparisons to a deadly Terminator-style robot may be a bit premature. But the team say a metal that can convert chemical energy to mechanical energy could eventually lead to the development of liquid robots.

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Liquid metal discovery paves way for shape-shifting robots

Thursday, April 09, 2015 - 01:54