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Self-propelling liquid metal foreshadows T-1000 from 'Terminator 2'

Researchers are studying how self-propelled liquid metals might move around, eventually creating a revolution in electronics...or an apocalypse.


Nightmares can come true...

Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

It's been 25 years since "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" gave us nightmares about Skynet and liquid-metal assassin robots, and we're still freaking out about artificial intelligence breaking bad. Now Australian researchers are helping to resurrect fears of the movie's spooky T-1000 killing machine by developing self-propelled liquid metals reminiscent of the ones that made up its body.

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne plan to create elastic electronic components and soft-circuit systems that act more like live cells.

For the most part, our modern electronics use fixed metallic tracks to create circuits that are stuck in a single configuration. This is why you can't simply ask Siri to split and rearrange your iPhone into four smaller iPods to share your music with friends.

Now think about how your body works -- blood cells float around your body delivering oxygen, nutrients and certain kinds of information to other cells, allowing them to grow and change. Making electronics with such degrees of freedom could open up whole new frontiers in medicine, engineering and yes, really powerful robots that hopefully do more than just murder.

"Eventually, using the fundamentals of this discovery, it may be possible to build a 3D liquid-metal humanoid on demand -- like the T-1000 Terminator but with better programming," said RMIT Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh in a release.

Yes, let's get that programming dialed in, please.

Fortunately for John Connor's family and other time travelers, we're still at the early stages of this research. To investigate how liquid metal moves, the RMIT team experimented with putting drops of liquid metal in water and tweaking the levels of base, acid and salt.

"Simply tweaking the water's chemistry made the liquid metal droplets move and change shape, without any need for external mechanical, electronic or optical stimulants," explained Kalantar-zadeh. "Using this discovery, we were able to create moving objects, switches and pumps that could operate autonomously -- self-propelling liquid metals driven by the composition of the surrounding fluid."

You can see the liquid metal moving around on its own in the video above and imagine one day slipping a drop of the stuff into your ear at night to coordinate with the nanobots in your bloodstream that keep you healthy, or that take control of your mind and turn you into an unwitting assassin. Your call, depending on how full your tech optimism glass is these days...

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