Liquid metal development sets us on a path to Terminator 2’s T-1000

Shape-shifting liquid metals that can be manipulated to form different structures are about to become reality, according to researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Led by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, a group from the School of Engineering at RMIT is working on soft circuit systems that act like live cells, move around autonomously and communicating with each other.

If the notion sounds familiar it’s probably because we’ve all seen this idea in practise before.

It didn’t work out that great last time though – to say the least – as the idea comes from Terminator 2’s shape-shifting T-1000.

“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 Kalantar-zadeh.

As well as building an autonomous T-1000, the researchers believe that liquid metal has potential applications in a range of industries including smart engineering solutions and biomedicine.

To get to that stage the RMIT engineers have been immersing liquid metal droplets in water that has had its concentrations of acid, base and salt components adjusted.

“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,” said 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.”

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Image courtesy of Ged Carroll

Modern electronics like smart phones and computers are mainly based on circuits that use solid state components, with fixed metallic tracks and semiconducting devices.

The researchers’ work will go a long way to creating elastic electronic components  that can be manipulated to create new circuits, rather than be stuck in one arrangement.

The precise conditions in which liquid metals can be moved or stretched are detailed in Nature Communications.

VR, holograms and drones: The future of film

From sound to television, the film industry has always had to confront technological advances or face oblivion. So far film has managed to evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant, but can cinema maintain its rightful place at the head of popular culture?

In order to do so, film will once again have to fend off challenges from infant technologies, while simultaneously adapting what it does to meet the needs of an increasingly connected audience.

So for your viewing pleasure, we look at how the world of cinema as we know it is changing.

Automatically generate video from text

Have you ever found yourself arguing with someone about whether the book or the movie is the better version of something?  Well, if Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold have their way then there may be no further need to discuss the matter.

The technological duo have patented a device which can create a video or visual representation of any random selection of text.

Potentially, this could mean that there would be no need for lavish reproductions of our favourite books, because we will instantly be able to see what they would look like on screen.

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Computer-generated actors

Actors may not be a necessary part of the future film industry. Paul Walker’s posthumous appearance in the seventh film in the Fast and Furious series has caused some to question the need for actors, especially if the technology were to develop sufficiently and allow them to be recreated from scratch.

The technology used in Fast and Furious Seven was developed by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital studio. To create the effect they used a combination of digital reconstruction techniques, as well as using Paul Walker’s brothers as stand-ins for the recently deceased star.

The cinema of the future could see actors — from both past and present — digitally constructed and inserted into films. If that were to happen, we may be spared scenes like this from American Sniper:

The cinema screen as just another platform

Cinema has faced competition from another platform before with the advent of television. But now film has to contend with television, tablets, phones and pervasive social media platforms.

The director Christopher Nolan has commented on cinema’s need to innovate and come up with bigger, better and more visually appealing ways of sharing film. “The audience experience is distinct from home entertainment, but not so much that people seek it out for its own sake,” he said.

“The experience must distinguish itself in other ways. And it will…These developments will require innovation, experimentation and expense, not cost-cutting exercises disguised as digital ‘upgrades’ or gimmickry aimed at justifying variable ticket pricing.”

Perhaps in the future this could lead to theatres moving away from projecting a sequence of two-dimensional images in a darkened room and evolve into large-scale public attractions. For instance, we’ve already seen cinema move outside, with open-air cinema. Imagine where it could go in the future.

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VR: entering the Matrix

We are just beginning to realise virtual reality’s capability, but the technology could be used to move audiences from witnessing events unfold to a world where they actually participate in them.

Just as theatres will have to innovate to maintain interest so will filmmakers, if they want to capitalise on the opportunity VR presents for immersive filmmaking.

At this point in VR’s development an off-the-shelf VR camera of true cinema quality doesn’t exist and the editing systems for VR are rudimentary. Most people working in VR are creating their own solutions. This leaves a massive opportunity for directors and filmmakers who excel when coming up with creative answers to technological problems.

So at this point in time, VR cinema needs its George Lucas or James Cameron: someone who can come along and redefine the technology.

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Image courtesy of Nan Palmero

Drone cinematography

VR isn’t the only technology in development that could aid the film industry. Drones could eventually be a cheap and simple way of capturing aerial and crane shots, and in some cases are already being used.

Remember the aerial shot of Julie Andrews that opens The Sound of Music? That could be filmed with relative ease by using a drone. Hollywood studios are aware of the possibilities for drone technology, where previously tough and expensive shots are getting easier to produce.

However, the technology isn’t just useful to makers of fiction. Documentary filmmakers can use drone technology to reach areas that human camera operators cannot go, which is what happened in the capturing of this aerial shot of a waterfall in Norway:

Cinema is a still a young art form, and we are only just beginning to understand how to control, manipulate and share visual and aural perceptions. But by utilising new technology, cinema will find new ways of stimulating the senses.