If you have seen Terminator Genisys, then you would be familiar with an object morphing into another shape. Well, now researchers from Cornell University may just make it a reality.
The key is a hybrid material featuring stiff metal and soft, porous rubber foam that combines the best properties of both — stiffness when it’s called for, and elasticity when a change of shape is required. The material also has the ability to self-heal following damage, according to Cornell University.
Cornell University engineering professor Rob Shepherd said:
“It’s sort of like us — we have a skeleton, plus soft muscles and skin.
“Unfortunately, that skeleton limits our ability to change shape — unlike an octopus, which does not have a skeleton.”
The idea involves combining the load-bearing and rigidity capacity of humans with an ability to dramatically change shape, similar to an octopus.
Watch this video on the new hybrid material from Cornell University:
“That’s what this idea is about, to have a skeleton when you need it, melt it away when you don’t, and then reform it,” Shepherd said.
The hybrid material is a combination of a soft alloy called Field’s metal, and a porous silicone foam. In addition it has a low melting point of 144 degrees Fahrenheit (62 degrees Celsius), and the fact it that it does not contain lead unlike other similar alloys.
Ilse Van Meerbeek, a graduate student in the field of mechanical engineering and a contributor to the paper, explained:
“In general, we want the things we make in this lab to be biocompatible.”
To combine them the researchers immersed the elastomer foam into the molten metal. It was then placed in a vacuum to remove the air from the foam’s pores replacing it with the alloy. The pore size of the foam was around 0.078 Inch (2 mm), and can be tuned to create a stiffer or a more flexible material.
While testing the strength and elasticity of the hybrid material; it proved to have the ability to deform when heated above its melting point (144 degrees) and gain its rigidity when cooled. When it was reheated it would return to its original shape and strength.
Shepherd, whose group recently published a paper on electroluminescent skin, which also has applications in soft robotics, said:
“Sometimes you want a robot, or any machine, to be stiff.
“But when you make them stiff, they can’t morph their shape very well. And to give a soft robot both capabilities, to be able to morph their structure but also to be stiff and bear load, that’s what this material does.”
The findings was published in Advanced Materials, the work was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
If you haven’t seen Terminator Genisys, watch this official trailer by moviemaniacsDE: