Liquid Metal Brings Soft Robotics One Step Closer to Terminator 2
In 1991, Terminator 2 introduced us to a “soft” robot made from then-futuristic shape-shifting technology arrived from the future — seemingly impervious to all weapons.
The special effects were stunning; the morphing metal shone like chrome and flowed like water. Bullets passed through the self-healing material as if it were butter.
Fast-forward to March 2018. Researchers at the University of Sussex in England have applied electrical charges to “liquid metal” allowing them to manipulate the material into 2-D shapes — so far, simple numbers and letters.
A computer controls the electrical activity so that the metal is programmable and dynamic. Simple, but with far-reaching implications for the soft robotics field.
Professor Sriram Subramanian, project head, said,“Liquid metal technologies are an extremely promising class of materials for deformable applications. One of our long-term visions is a programmable liquid metal that changes the physical shape, appearance and functionality of any object through digital control to create intelligent, dexterous and useful objects that exceed the functionality of any current display or robot.”
While a liquid metal terminator androids are a good ways off, researchers are considering possibilities like re-programmable circuit boards and conductive ink.
“The compelling evidence of detailed 2D control of liquid metals excites us to explore more potential applications in computer graphics, smart electronics, soft robotics and flexible displays,” said Research Associate Yutaka Tokuda.
Artificial Intelligence Finds Missing Ghost Ancestor of Humans
Our ancestry as a species is intricate and convoluted. We know that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the other iterations of our hominin ancestors interbred and evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. But while anthropologists have done their best to map out this complicated lineage, we’ve now reached a point in our evolution that machines can map our genealogy better than we can. Such was the case when a machine learning algorithm applied to our DNA roadmap found a new ancestor we didn’t even know existed.
According to a study published in Nature Communications, scientists fed DNA data from fossilized bones and modern humans into an A.I. algorithm that computed thousands of timelines to map out the possible evolutionary pathways based on what we know – or what we think we know – about our ancestors migrations, diasporas, and interbreeding to tell us if we were missing anything.
It turns out we were…
The new study found that a missing, archaic “ghost” ancestor played a significant role in the development of the human species, helping to propel us from primitive hominins to the highly intelligent beings we are today.
This ancestor was likely a hybrid of Neanderthals and the Denisovans – the hominin ancestor discovered in 2010, that five percent of modern humans can still directly trace their genealogy through.
And though the study’s authors are referring to this hominin hybrid as a “ghost” population, they also believe there might be fossil evidence of it found in the bones of a 90,000-year-old specimen of a teenage girl discovered in Siberia’s Denisova cave – the location where the original Denisovan fossils were found.
The discovery of the Denisovans has presented itself as one of the most profound and baffling finds for archeologists within the past decade as their fossil remains showed they existed for millennia alongside our other ancestors. Not to mention they appear to have been massive in comparison to other hominin species.
And by massive, they mean that a Denisovan wisdom tooth found in the cave was originally mistaken for that of a bear’s. And though wisdom teeth can vary in size, the anthropologist studying the specimen, Bence Viola, told National Geographic, “large teeth with massive roots would probably require massive jaws.”
Who were these gigantic Denisovans whom we know so little about, and even more baffling, what did their hybrid progeny with Neanderthal’s look like? These paradigm-shifting discoveries only add to the fact that we still have so much more to learn about our species’ history.
For more on the strange discovery of the gigantic Denisovans check out this episode of Ancient Civilizations :