How are they doing that? Scientists have developed an awesome transforming material built from wax & foam that can change its state. It can even be used with surgical robots; Robots where steady work is obviously important so the robot cannot be fluid all the time. But when it is necessary – it is a life saver!
Think that is cool enough? How about this?! This ‘Terminator’-like liquid may heal severed nerves! Awesome right? In a time when we have exo-skeletons that the disabled can wear and chips that can let your mind control the artificial limb or brace on an existing one with a severed nerve, now we can reconnect the nerve.
How does this react in space / in a vacuum? No information as of yet on that though surely that angle is being looked into. Many times emergency EVAs occur and the item to be reached outside the ISS (for example) is in some tight spot. Certainly this sort of advance could be utilized.
Another area? Search and Rescue robots can squeeze into small spots such as debris from a tornado or other catastrophic event and locate survivors.
So who came up with this break-through? Anette Hosoi, professor at MIT of Mechanical engineering and applied mathematics along with her former graduate student Nadia Cheng and researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University.
And how is this material achieved? To make something capable of shifting between squishy and rigid, researchers coated the foam material in wax. Thanks to the foam, the material can be both squeezed into a size a fraction of its initial shape and then once released bounce back to its original shape.
The wax outer shell is not your average wax. It changes from a hard outer shell to a pliable surface thanks to moderate heating via of a wire that runs across its surfaces which applies a small current. Turn the current off and it becomes rigid, turn it on and pliable. AND the foam is really a low-cost polyurethane foam that then is bathed in wax while squeezed and released so that it soaks up the wax.
Apparently the ‘idea’ being mimicked is one of an octopus as they are able to flatten out to get themselves through tight quarters and then resume their normal state.
To learn more read the article in the journal of Macromolecular Materials and Engineering.