Innovation

Watch: This jail-breaking wireless robot melts and reassembles on command

It may eventually enter your stomach.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

This Lego-shaped robot is stuck behind bars — but not for long.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

When exposed to a little heat, it puddles into a liquid to pull off the ultimate jailbreak.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Then for its final act, the robot re-solidifies outside the cage.

Shapeshifting robots might seem like the stuff of sci-fi, but recent research is making them a reality.

New materials and nature-inspired designs are enabling robots to contort, bend, and transform for many different uses.

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Wang and Pan et al./Matter

This week, researchers showed off a new type of robot that can morph from solid to liquid and back again, as reported in the journal Matter.

Scientists were inspired by sea cucumbers, which can morph from stiff to soft.

Ayman Shalaby / 500px/500px/Getty Images

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The robots are made of magnetic microparticles and the metal gallium, which melts at low temperatures.

Those materials make the robots durable, easy to control, and prone to quick melting and cooling.

Jailbreaking is just one of the robot’s unique abilities.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Researchers tested their prototypes in a variety of settings to show possible uses in manufacturing and healthcare.

Here, two tiny, square-shaped robots melt and solder a light to a board — and a third one hops in to complete the circuit.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Inside this artificial stomach, the bot softens to swallow an object and carries it off.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

And here, the robot releases a substance into the model stomach, simulating how it could carry medicines inside the body.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

The robots could tackle a wide range of jobs, but they need more testing to determine their safety and efficacy in the real world.

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

Wang and Pan et al./Matter

“What we're showing are just one-off demonstrations, proofs-of-concept, but much more study will be required to delve into how this could actually be used for drug delivery or for removing foreign objects.”

Carmel Majidi, senior study author, in a press release