Phase Changing, Self-Healing Material Could Make T-1000 a Reality
MIT engineers may have discovered a way to build a T-1000. The team, led by mechanical engineering professor Anette Hosoi, developed a new kind of material that can switch between hard and soft phases and has the ability to squeeze through infinitesimally small spaces and repair itself, much like the robot from the second film in the Terminator series.
The material was built as part of the Chemical Robots program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Partially inspired by the anatomy of an octopus, the researchers hope that this technology can be used to create flexible surgical robots, which will then be able to navigate soft organs without damaging them. In order to perform this feat, as well as other delicate tasks, the material needed to both be compliant enough to squeeze into small spaces and strong enough to manipulate its surroundings. "You can't just create a bowl of Jell-O, because if the Jell-O has to manipulate an object, it would simply deform without applying significant pressure to the thing it was trying to move," says Hosoi.
So a truly deformable material would need to have the ability to switch between soft and hard states: "If you're trying to squeeze under a door, for example, you should opt for a soft state, but if you want to pick up a hammer or open a window, you need at least part of the machine to be rigid."
The material is made of foam, as foam can be compressed to a fraction of its size and then exhibits "shape memory" upon its release from compression. In order to achieve the necessary rigidity, the researchers coated the foam with wax, which allows the material to become hard or soft depending on small changes in temperature. These changes can be easily achieved by running a wire along the structure of the material and applying a current in order to make the material soft and pliable.
The scaffold on the left is covered with a rigid wax coating, as it is cooled, while the scaffold on the left has not yet been coated with wax, so remains compliant.
A soft, flexible scaffold that is coated in wax and is being compressed in a temperature-controlled chamber.
The wax coating affords the material another commonality with the T-1000: the ability to repair itself when injured. If the wax coating is warped or cracked, then heating and cooling it will make it as good as new. According to Hosoi: "This material is self-healing. So if you push it too far and fracture the coating, you can heat it and then cool it, and the structure returns to its original configuration."