This tiny Terminator-esque "phase shifting bot" can move between solid and liquid states in order to access, or escape confined spaces. In solid form, it can take on simple shapes including that of the little Lego man as shown in the video, but the magic really happens when it melts down—moving between the two states it is able to complete a multiformity of tasks, all completely wirelessly.
Researchers have been able to show the endless potential of this material, which they've dubbed "magnetoactive phase transitional matter", or MPTM (Matter (opens in new tab) via BBC Science Focus (opens in new tab)).
In order to shift its form, the bot features magnetic particles embedded in gallium to which an alternating magnetic field (AMF) is applied. This heats it up and causes it to melt. With a melting point of just 29.8°C gallium is the perfect solution for a phase shifting bot that uses the simple application of ambient heat to deform and reform.
The use of gallium means it's also conductive, so along with countless other applications, MPTMs can be used as "smart soldering machines that can manipulate and solder electronic components to create a functional circuit".
Aside from that, the researchers show this material can be used to form "universal screws to assemble parts in hard-to-reach space". I'm not sure exactly how universal these screws will be once they're exposed to only 30°C temps. But while the low melting point of gallium somewhat limits its application, this is still an incredible feat on the part of the researchers.
Watch this shapeshifting #robot remove an object from a model stomach. @Matter_CP pic.twitter.com/qgvaPBVXAeJanuary 25, 2023
Impressively, the design even has applications in drug delivery, and removing foreign objects from the human body. God, I hope I don't have to cover the first time that happens.
"The diverse unprecedented functionalities demonstrated by MPTMs are promising for future applications in flexible electronics, healthcare, and robotics that depend on dynamic shape reconfigurability and repair."
Time to prepare yourself for a future involving morphological robots, then. At least we know their weakness: turning the heating on.
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