A miniature humanoid robot capable of escaping from a cage like a real Houdini has been developed: to pass through the bars, it changes state, from solid to liquid, and immediately afterwards recomposes itself, resuming its original shape.
Made with magnetic material capable of conducting electricity, in the future it could even be used in the human body to deliver drugs or remove objects, as demonstrated by the first experiments published in the journal Matter by an international team led by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The robot was made of a shape-shifting material composed of gallium (a metal with a low melting point of 29.8 degrees) enriched with magnetic particles, which have a dual role.
"On the one hand - explains mechanical engineer Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University - they make the material reactive to an alternating magnetic field, so that it is possible to heat the material by induction causing its phase change. On the other hand, the particles magnetic fields give the robot the ability to move in response to the magnetic field."
The new material also has a much more fluid liquid phase than other phase-changing materials.
The researchers put it to the test in different contexts: driven by a magnetic field, the robot was able to jump ditches, climb walls and even split in half to move other objects and then put it back together again.
Impressive video showing the mini robot in the shape of a person that liquefies to pass through the bars of a cage and then resume its original shape.
To evaluate its possible applications in the biomedical field, the researchers used the robot to remove foreign bodies and deliver drugs into a fake stomach reproduced in the laboratory.
Instead, to demonstrate the mechanical properties of the robot, they tried to use it as a smart soldering iron for assembling and repairing circuits and as a universal screw for assembling elements in very confined spaces.