Insert Google/Skynet joke here; I’m too tired to do it this time…
While the real-world and fictional robots we’re used to seeing are typically very rigid, it may not be ideal for some tasks. We can create robotic machines that can contort and maneuver themselves to fit into smaller spaces while STILL remaining sturdy enough for strength-dependent tasks. By “we,” I’m talking about MIT and Google’s Boston Dynamics, as the parties have developed a composite material with the ability to switch change from hard and soft states whenever, wherever, INSTANTLY!
The design merges a compressible foam inside with a wax coating outside, and should a robot need to deform, it would only have to soften the particular joints through a little bit of heating. The composite could even heal damage by heating and cooling any affected area. This project is still in its early stages, but there are plenty of potential real-world applications for the material already. For example, DARPA wants robots with the ability to actually slip through cracks to reach unreachable areas (i.e., rescue survivors trapped under rubble, etc.), whereas MIT wants to use these creations as surgical robots that could repair difficult-to-reach body parts.
This serves as a great advancement in the concept of shape-shifting automatons, but don’t expect any T-800’s, T-1000’s or T-X’s yet — there, a Terminator/Skynet reference; ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!