The mimetic polyalloy cyborg in “Terminator 2,” played by Robert Patrick in the 1991 movie that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, could imitate the shape of objects it touched. The scene in which Patrick’s liquid metal robot pours itself through the ceiling of an elevator inspired Purdue Polytechnic’s Richard Voyles to work toward developing similar technology.
“He’s computing while pouring,” explained Voyles, professor of electrical and computer engineering technology and head of the Collaborative Robotics Lab. “It may be fiction, but there’s sensing, computation and actuation that are all happening simultaneously while in that liquid state.”
Although liquid metal robots capable of computing while changing shape remain in the realm of science fiction, Purdue researchers are working to create 3D-printed objects infused with sensing, computation and actuation abilities. Voyles is working with Bedrich Benes, professor of computer graphics technology, Karthik Ramani, the Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and six other faculty members on the project.
“We are synthesizing new materials that we can print in 3D that embody sensing and computation as well as structure,” Voyles said. “Science fiction just keeps producing ideas.”
The research could lead to the creation of a “smart product printer” that combines the printing of a structure with the printing of electronics, sensing and other functions.