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First Liquid Machines Presage Soft Robots

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the just-make-sure-we-keep-arnold-close-at-hand dept.

Science 42

KentuckyFC writes "The technology behind the T-1000 assassin in the Terminator movies might as well be science fiction as far as modern manufacturing is concerned. But we're making progress — thanks to some work by Chinese engineers who have perfected a way to make liquid metals assume various shapes and switch from one to another with the flick of a switch. These guys placed a thin film of gallium-indium-selenium alloy (melting point 10.5 degrees C) in water and applied an electric field. The balance between the surface tension of the metal and the electric forces on its surface then caused the metal to form a ball. They can move the sphere around, combine it with other spheres, and even use it to rotate the water. The engineers say this is the first step toward smart liquid machines that can assume almost any shape. And since the alloy is biologically benign, these machines could be used with, and even inside humans. Their next goal is to create a set of parallel electrodes that cause the metal to form into an undulating worm-shape that can propel itself along."

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42 comments

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Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304779)

A knife is also biologically benign, just not mechanically.

Re:Really? (2)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 7 months ago | (#46304899)

So are ice cubes, term papers and elephants. What's your point?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305319)

"Biologically benign" sounds, at first, as if there is no need for concern over how it's used in relation to humans. My AC ancestor probably started there and then realized that "biologically benign" doesn't really mean that after all.

Really? (5, Funny)

L1mewater (557442) | about 7 months ago | (#46304797)

"The technology behind the T-1000 assassin in the Terminator movies might as well be science fiction" Might it? Might it really?

Re:Really? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304849)

yes, 'really'
how about clearly delineating what exactly it is that you are trying to say? 'isnt it obvious' um, no.. it isnt.
clearly state which position you are taking with that 'maybe' comment so others can clearly ascertain whether or not you are a bigot and/or idiot, thank you

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304999)

You.. do know that Terminator wasn't a documentary, right?

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305043)

But it will be. It will be.

Re:Really? (1)

lgw (121541) | about 7 months ago | (#46305935)

Time travel: it will have been. It will have been. (Or using the H2G2 tenses: it willen haven been a documentary, unless there's a special tense for time travel to protect you own grandfather.)

Re:Really? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305941)

Afterwards the machines turn us into batteries. Then keanu reeves is born and makes peace with the machines. Then we leave the planet behind in a ship called Galactica to find a new home. The machines stay behind, rename the planet cybertron, and themselves how to turn into cars and trucks. They start fighting with themselves and end up crash landing in new, new, new, new. new, new. new. new, new york and history repeats all over again.

Re:Really? (3, Funny)

L1mewater (557442) | about 7 months ago | (#46305049)

Oh, hi KentuckyFC! Or perhaps Soulskill.

You probably did not notice it when you were composing or editing the submission, but you wrote that the technology behind the T-1000 "might as well be science fiction." The T-1000 is indeed science fiction.

Since the phrase "might as well be" is used to describe a situation that is not actually true, but is used in the summary to describe a situation that actually is true, it reads as a quite silly.

In fact, the first line of your post, "yes, 'really,'" reads as similarly comical because you are also claiming that something that is widely known to be true not actually true, but "might as well be."

I hope that "clearly delineates" what I was trying to say. I apologize that it was "not obvious" to you, because, in fact, my original intent in posting was in the hopes that those who did not take the time to read the first sixteen words of the summary might notice the humorous mistake.

Re:Really? (2)

mwehle (2491950) | about 7 months ago | (#46305211)

I think you might as well be right.

Re:Really? (1)

camazotz (1242344) | about 7 months ago | (#46305235)

Pedants of the world, keeping the universe safe for the literal minded.

I bet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46328897)

I'd bet he was trying to write: "The technology behind the T-1000 assassin in the Terminator movies might well be science fiction..." but auto correct got him and no one reviewed prior to submission.

Re:Really? (1)

jpvlsmv (583001) | about 7 months ago | (#46305653)

"The technology behind the T-1000 assassin in the Terminator movies might as well be science fiction"

Might it? Might it really?

Or it might be pop-media drivel written to draw money from moviegoers without any actual science or fiction (much less both)

Technology? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304801)

The technologyscience-fiction behind the T-1000 assassin in the Terminator movies might as well be science fiction as far as modern manufacturing is concerned

jesus I hate fanbois.

I like sci-fi, but I don't cross the fourth wall INTO believing it.

Robotic Dildos hardest hit. (2)

RailGunner (554645) | about 7 months ago | (#46304811)

Their next goal is to create a set of parallel electrodes that cause the metal to form into an undulating worm-shape that can propel itself along."

.... and somewhere, porn of this will exist.

Re:Robotic Dildos hardest hit. (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 7 months ago | (#46304877)

Rule 34. No Exceptions.

Re:Robotic Dildos hardest hit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304939)

Undulating worm-shape goes where??

Re:Robotic Dildos hardest hit. (1)

lagomorpha2 (1376475) | about 7 months ago | (#46305013)

Their next goal is to create a set of parallel electrodes that cause the metal to form into an undulating worm-shape that can propel itself along." .... and somewhere, porn of this does exist.

ftfy

Technology of the future! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46304821)

... these machines could be used with, and even inside humans. Their next goal is to create a set of parallel electrodes that cause the metal to form into an undulating worm-shape...

*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

Re:Technology of the future! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46307513)

Are we sure these aren't Japanese researchers?

How about that (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 7 months ago | (#46304845)

And here I thought the explanation of how the T-2000 worked sounded like utter bullshit when I saw the movie, requiring suspension of disbelief. Except, of course, this stuff doesn't turn completely solid.

Re:How about that (4, Interesting)

gnick (1211984) | about 7 months ago | (#46304943)

I can't get to the link and know no more about this metal except from the summary, but it sounds like it would be solid below 10.5 C - Not that cold. With sufficient sophistication (i.e. FAR beyond turning into a ball), you could imagine some solid "cool" pieces with "warm" joints.

But then again, with "sufficient sophistication," 3-d scanners/printers and electron microscopes could give us teleportation and/or human duplication capabilities. Yep, sci-fi and suspension of disbelief. But the idea that we might be so advanced that we could build pneumatic tubes as a means of trans-Atlantic message passing seemed impossibly advanced 150 years ago. And we beat the hell out of that one.

[Yeah, I realize I just posted 3 "buts," all of them big. Well, I like big "buts" and I cannot lie.]

video (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about 7 months ago | (#46304847)

Is there a video of this somewhere? The links do not show much of the process.

first step (1)

RichMan (8097) | about 7 months ago | (#46304859)

In these examples the machine is outside the metal. The liquid metal is just a passive substance being manipulated and moved. It will be something when the manipulation device itself is mutable.

Re:first step (1)

gnick (1211984) | about 7 months ago | (#46304961)

You could conceivably imagine a non-mutable core in charge of external communication and manipulation.

Re:first step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305231)

Nanomachines are getting there. Baby steps still, but getting there.

Having nanobots control the structure would make it an even more flexible design.
Of course, first implementation will likely have a simple body skeleton, then to one that is made of multiple small robots that can also move around in the liquid.
Stuff like hands would be really hard to do. More so the rough outer skin that won't leak metal to other surfaces it touches.

And it's totally scalable! (1)

javelinco (652113) | about 7 months ago | (#46304885)

Yes, this technology (I admit it, I RTFA, sorry) looks totally scalable! I can hardly wait until we've got giant morphing robots - I'm guessing, what, 5 years from now until we see these available commercially?

Re:And it's totally scalable! (1)

swb (14022) | about 7 months ago | (#46304921)

Yes, 5 years, just in time for the holographic storage to hit the shelf, too.

Re:And it's totally scalable! (4, Funny)

gnick (1211984) | about 7 months ago | (#46304975)

The time of holographic storage is NOW! Take a hologram, toss it in a filing cabinet, and that cabinet is now holographic storage.

Re:And it's totally scalable! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305169)

Sooner than that, I'm sure by next week, early next week, you'll be able to 3D print them at home. Ahh, 3D printing, another completely scalable all-powerful technology.

not so new (1)

tverbeek (457094) | about 7 months ago | (#46304989)

Soft robots have been with us for decades. [youtube.com]

Re:not so new (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46305903)

I came here to say this. Except your example is horrid - putting a fuzzy plush covering over a normal robot does not make it a "soft".

There has however been a fair amount of research into various soft-material robots, mostly using pneumatics or electro-stimulated plastics to provide motive forces. A crude tentacle:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

Then there's the robots which are technically "hard", but have so many degrees of freedom they appear "soft", like this "elephant-trunk" with semi-soft conforming "fingers" http://www.engineeringtv.com/v... [engineeringtv.com] .

Really, a PDF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305111)

What, no video?

Benign, eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46305399)

"gallium-indium-selenium alloy"
" And since the alloy is biologically benign..."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selenium#Biological_role

Before someone else says it, yes, I realize alloys can have very different properties than the parent element (Hello, Sodium Chloride!, but starting with a known troublemaker....

Re:Benign, eh? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46305959)

Yeah, and I doubt a liquid alloy would remain alloyed for long within a biological system that selectively absorbs some of the components. After all an alloy is *not* a chemical compound.

Re:Benign, eh? (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 7 months ago | (#46307271)

I'm sure at least one strong oxidizer exists in our body that could pull the Gallium off and make Gallium Oxide. No way that could go wrong.

Re:Benign, eh? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46307629)

Well, there's exactly one oxidizer that is capable of creating oxides - oxygen, which happens to be one of the strongest oxidizers commonly encountered. Well, I suppose any oxidizer which contains ionicly-bound oxygen could do the job, but I'm not sure there's actually many oxidizers stronger than monoatomic oxygen,and a compound would require that gallium be a stronger reducer than whatever the oxygen was initially bound to.

Oxidation is deceptively named for historical reasons, but in modern chemistry any atom or compound that receives electrons in a redox reaction is considered an oxidizer, no oxygen needs be present anywhere in the reaction, and the exact same molecule can be a reducer in some other reaction. Animation of the redox reaction by which sodium and fluorine become sodium fluoride: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

Is gallium oxide actually particularly dangerous? I found warnings about gallium chloride, but not oxide. And apparently gallium citrate is sometimes injected for medical scanning purposes.

Re:Benign, eh? (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 7 months ago | (#46310795)

There are a lot of other oxidizers that can create oxides. Potassium permanganate and ozone (O3) are two such highly reactive oxidizers. Ozone obviously is still just oxygen, but it's far more reactive than diatomic oxygen.

The Gallium (I) oxide is a very strong reducing agent, so that could theoretically set off a reaction. The Ga(III) oxide is far more common...but as you pointed out a lot more than just the oxides can be formed. The oxide is just one I know off hand as a bit dangerous.

Re:Benign, eh? (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 7 months ago | (#46310807)

"Gallium and gallium compounds may cause metallic taste, dermatitis and depression of the bone marrow function. Large doses may cause hemorrhagic nephritis. "

From the MSDS from Gallium (I) Oxide

Tin Foil Hat Time (2)

Tablizer (95088) | about 7 months ago | (#46305509)

There's a real UK military project called Skynet, and now we have liquid metal robots. Time to be officially freaked out.

Wow... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 7 months ago | (#46305547)

Deja Vu [youtube.com] .

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