Inspired by the shape-shifting, liquid metal robot in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a Wollongong research team has created a liquid metal ‘heartbeat’.
By designing a special electrode and applying voltage to drops of liquid metal, the University of Wollongong research team has been able to make the metal pulse rhythmically like a beating heart.
Professor Xiaolin Wang, who led the team from the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials, said the breakthrough discovery had many applications – for robots and hence for humans.
And Prof Wang reckons Terminator director James Cameron might well take a look at what the team has come up with to further develop his robot in a future installment of the science fiction franchise. Not that the scientist believes in science fiction.
“To me science fiction is simply a science fact that hasn’t been discovered yet,” he said. “So I was inspired by the liquid robot from the Hollywood movie Terminator and wanted to see how its functions could be reproduced.
“The robot had two main functionalities – the first was to change its shape and then recover it instantly, and that has already been reproduced by a Chinese research team. The robot’s second functionality was to transfer from a soft liquid state to solid – and our team at UOW has reproduced that effect here in our lab.
“However we’ve now been able to create new functionalities for the liquid metal – such as a beating heart – and I think James Cameron might be interested to take a look at our videos.”
Prof Wang said while similar heartbeat effects have been created in liquid mercury, this was highly toxic and produced an erratic motion that was difficult to deactivate or control. His team used liquid gallium, a non-toxic, soft silvery metal with a low melting point that produces a regular motion.
“There’s many potential applications for this,” he said, “such as to power artificial muscles and soft robotics.
“People don’t need to be concerned that we’re developing more advanced AI (artificial intelligence) – what we’re doing is creating new functions to make electronic devices more flexible and beneficial to our daily lives.”
The findings have been published in the July 11 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Physical Review Letters.