Fans of the Terminator movies, especially Terminator 2: Judgment Day, will remember the T-1000 (Prototype Series 1000 Terminator) shape-shifting robot whose liquid mimetic polyalloy body could assume the forms of people, weapons or anything else it needed to be to make life miserable for Sarah and John Connor and the Terminator. T-1000 didn’t say “I’ll be back” but unfortunately, he may be one of these days. Researchers have developed a self-propelling liquid metal for making flexible and dynamically reconfigurable soft circuit systems. Like the T-1000?
Using this discovery, we were able to create moving objects, switches and pumps that could operate autonomously – self-propelling liquid metals driven by the composition of the surrounding fluid. Eventually, using the fundamentals of this discovery, it may be possible to build a 3D liquid metal humanoid on demand – like the T-1000 Terminator.
The mad scientist behind that quote is Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh of the School of Engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne. He led a team that started by testing the movement of liquid metals (like non-toxic alloys of gallium) in water. A drop of liquid metal has a highly-conductive metallic core surrounded by a semiconducting oxide skin, making it a good electric circuit.
To make the droplet move around so that it can eventually join forces with other droplets to create a T-1000 (oops, getting ahead of things here), the team adjusted the concentrations of acid, base and salt components in the water and were surprised at what happened.
Simply tweaking the water’s chemistry made the liquid metal droplets move and change shape, without any need for external mechanical, electronic or optical stimulants.
So the first real T-1000 will probably have to be an underwater Terminator. Team member Dr. Ali Zavabeti authored a paper published in Nature Communications that describes how they can move and stretch the liquid metal.
Is it time to invest in an M79 grenade launcher and move close by to a vat of molten steel? Professor Kalantar-zadeh assures that, while the liquid metal is here, the programming needed to manipulate it into anything useful, let alone a shape-shifting assassin robot, is still a long way off.
Let’s hope the programmers remember the words of Sarah Connor:
If a machine … can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.