Liquid Metal Shape-Changing 'Soft Robotics'

Researchers at the University of Sussex and Swansea University have applied electrical charges to manipulate liquid metal into 2D shapes.


(Programmable Liquid Matter)

Yutaka Tokuda, the Research Associate working on this project at the University of Sussex, says: “This is a new class of programmable materials in a liquid state which can dynamically transform from a simple droplet shape to many other complex geometry in a controllable manner.

“While this work is in its early stages, the compelling evidence of detailed 2D control of liquid metals excites us to explore more potential applications in computer graphics, smart electronics, soft robotics and flexible displays.”

The electric fields used to shape the liquid are created by a computer, meaning that the position and shape of the liquid metal can be programmed and controlled dynamically.

Professor Sriram Subramanian, head of the INTERACT Lab at the University of Sussex, said: “Liquid metals are an extremely promising class of materials for deformable applications; their unique properties include voltage-controlled surface tension, high liquid-state conductivity and liquid-solid phase transition at room temperature.

“One of the long-term visions of us and many other researchers is to change the physical shape, appearance and functionality of any object through digital control to create intelligent, dexterous and useful objects that exceed the functionality of any current display or robot.”

Fans of science fiction films of course recall those liquid metal T-1000 terminators from the 1991 movie Terminator 2:

John Connor: So this other guy: he's a Terminator like you, right?
The Terminator: Not like me. A T-1000, advanced prototype.
John Connor: You mean more advanced than you are?
The Terminator: Yes. A mimetic poly-alloy.
John Connor: What the hell does that mean?
The Terminator: Liquid metal.

Philip K. Dick fans may be thinking (as do our friends at Frolix_8) of the machine (the "M") from his 1957 short story The Unreconstructed M. This enigmatic machine can transform itself at will into apparently innocent objects - but it's only waiting to strike.

Beam, holding the cigaret lighter, walked toward the M. A receptor stalk waved toward him and the machine retreated. Its lines wavered, flowed, and then painfully reformed. For an interval, the device struggled with itself; then, reluctantly, the portable t-v unit again became visible.

Via University of Sussex; thanks to @nyrath for the retweet of this story.

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