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Scientists create a shape-shifting robot that can switch between liquid and solid

The design of the miniature shape-shifting robot is inspired by sea cucumbers: a marine animal that can rapidly and reversibly change their stiffness.

shape-shifting robot

Scientists have created a miniature shape-shifting robot that can change its physical form between solid and liquid. With this, the robot is able to escape tight spaces, according to findings published in the scientific journal Matter. The team of researchers has tested the robot’s mobility and its shape-morphing abilities.

“Giving robots the ability to switch between liquid and solid states endows them with more functionality,” said Chengfeng Pan, an engineer at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, who led the study.

A senior author on the project, Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University told  Science News. that the design of the miniature robots is inspired by sea cucumbers: a marine animal that can rapidly and reversibly change their stiffness. The robots are magnetic and can conduct electricity.

The shape-shifting robot is made of metal gallium, which can melt at a little less than 86 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the Matter study, researchers
have used magnetic particles in the metal to control how the robot moves or melts with the use of magnets.

Majidi explained, “the magnetic particles here have two roles. One is that they make the material responsive to an alternating magnetic field, so you can, through induction, heat up the material and cause the phase change. But the magnetic particles also give the robots mobility and the ability to move in response to the magnetic field.”

One of the tests showed that the robot could melt itself to escape from a cage before the scientist reverted it back to its original shape. The robot also “jumped over moats, climbed walls, and even split in half to cooperatively move other objects around before coalescing back together,” the study said.

According to the study, shape-shifting robots could help in the biomedical field. In one experiment, the robot was used to move a foreign object stuck in a model stomach.

“What we’re showing are just one-off demonstrations, proofs of concept, but much more study will be required to delve into how this could actually be used for drug delivery or for removing foreign objects,” Majidi said.

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