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One day, robots might be able to shift shapes like in the movie "Terminator 2," thanks to a foam-and-wax material being developed by MIT engineers. Mechanical engineering professor Anette Hosoi and her former graduate student Nadia Cheng, along with researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University, are busy trying to perfect a material that can switch between hard and soft states; they envision using it to build low-cost robots capable of the same feat. The MIT researchers see at least two possible applications for such robots. One is in medicine, where tiny deformable surgical robots could move through the body to reach a particular point without damaging any of the organs or vessels along the way. Another futuristic scenario: “squishy,” octopus-like search-and-rescue robots that can squeeze through tight spaces, like earthquake rubble, to look for disaster survivors. The work on “soft robotics” is described in a new paper in the journal Macromolecular Materials and Engineering.

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