It’s been 30 years since the iconic shape-shifting T-1000 robot of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day first captured our imaginations. Now, scientists have made a real-world version of this classic sci-fi trope, although with more altruistic goals in mind. The team was inspired not by Hollywood, but by the humble sea cucumber, which can transition between soft and rigid body states.
The team, headed by Chengfeng Pan from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has created a tiny robotic system that can change from solid to liquid states and back again. This technology could endow robots with a greater level of functionality. The system comprises multiple small cubes, each measuring three millimeters in length, that are connected via a network of springs and other components.
When the system is activated, the cubes become rigid and link together to form any number of 3D shapes, from cubes and cylinders to arbitrary configurations. The team believes this system could help robots better adapt to the terrain and their surroundings in a wide variety of applications.
The team also explored how the system could be used to carry objects. When a load is placed on the robotic system, its components become softer, allowing it to conform to the shape of the load. This could make transporting fragile items easier. The team also noted that the system could be used to construct simple structures, such as a bridge.
The team believes this system could prove invaluable in various applications and has immense potential for future development. Such technology could be used to create robots that are more agile and versatile than ever before.