'Terminator'-Inspired Liquid-Metal Robot Developed in China

By Matthew Bossons, November 6, 2018

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“The T-1000 can’t form complex machines. Guns and explosives have chemicals in them. Moving parts. It doesn’t work that way, but it can form solid metal shapes,” said T-800 ‘Model 101.’

“Like what?” questioned John Connor.

“Knives and stabbing weapons,” answered the T-800, who was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was one of the most chilling lines in the whole movie and was made in reference to the ‘liquid-metal’ T-1000, the film’s time-traveling robotic villain.

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The T-1000 using a liquid-metal knife-arm. Image via TriStar Pictures/IMDB

While the idea of a robot made of liquid metal was fantasy in the early ’90s, as 2018 draws to a close the concept seems dramatically more possible… 

According to multiple media reports published late last month, Chinese researchers have developed a small robot that is powered by a liquid-metal motor. South China Morning Post describes the device as a “palm-sized robot” that is comprised of a “plastic wheel, a small lithium battery and drops of liquid metal.”

The liquid metal is comprised mainly of gallium, a soft, silvery element that becomes a liquid at temperatures above 29.8 degrees Celsius. (Also used in the liquid metal: tin and indium, according to New Scientist magazine).

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Image via Reference News

While the small device is far less intimidating than the menacing T-1000, the scientists behind its development were motivated by T2’s antagonist. 

“We were inspired by T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” said Li Xiangpeng, a robotics professor at Suzhou’s Soochow University, according to SCMP. Another researcher involved in the project, Tang Shiyang from Australia’s University of Wollongong, also stated: “I have been thinking about flexible robots like T-1000 since I watched that film when I was 10.” 

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The small liquid-metal motor acting as a self-powered pump. Screengrab via New Scientist/YouTube

Video footage of the liquid-metal motor shows a drop of silver liquid being ‘fed’ a flake of aluminum, which then fuses with the shiny droplet – causing it to rotate. The small metal orb can then move entirely on its own, or work as a self-powered pump. 

Watch T-1000 highlights from Judgement Day – followed by footage of the liquid-metal orb navigating a tube – below (VPN off)

The robot’s development was a joint project between Li and Zhang Shiwu from the University of Science and Technology of China, along with researchers from the University of Wollongong, which is located in the Australian state of New South Wales.

In the future, the team hopes liquid metal robots can be used to aid in search and rescue missions, as well as medical procedures. 

“We expect to further develop soft robots incorporating liquid metal that could be used in special missions such as searching for and rescuing earthquake victims, since they can change shape to slide under doors or make it through spaces humans can’t get into,” said Tang, according to SCMP

[Cover image via TriStar Pictures/IMDB]

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