This Self-Powered Liquid Metal Could Change Robotics

Scientists have developed a self-powered, highly flexible liquid metal compound which could see applications in robotics and other fields.

AsianScientist (Apr. 7, 2015) – Inspired by mollusks, researchers have developed a liquid metal that can move on its own, powered by aluminum “food”. Described in a paper published in Advanced Materials, the new compound could make big waves in robotics thanks to its ability to change shape to negotiate bends and curves.

A team led by Dr. Liu Jing at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University used a mixture of gallium, indium and tin to make the metal compound. It stays liquid at temperatures above -2 degrees Fahrenheit (-19 Celsius), can move itself in a circle, straight line or even squeeze through complex shapes when placed in a sodium hydroxide solution.

Its integrated power source is a flake of aluminum embed in the liquid metal. The aluminum reacts with the sodium hydroxide to release hydrogen gas, while placing the aluminum in the liquid metal drop’s rear creates differences in electrical charges across the liquid metal. The charge differences in differing parts of the liquid metal causes movement, as the liquid metal physically adjusts itself to balance out the resulting differences in internal pressure.

Currently, a drop of liquid metal has enough power to move around for 30 minutes to an hour. Nanotechnology could be used to build the embedded control system, sensors and computers for any liquid metal robot.

It might be basic research now, but the researchers anticipate that self healing metals such as theirs would have many future civilian and military applications.

The article can be found at: Zhang et al. (2015) Self-Fueled Biomimetic Liquid Metal Mollusk.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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