Skip to main content

Autonomous convergence and divergence of the self-powered soft liquid metal vehicles



Conventional rigid machines, even biological systems in nature, generally do not own the capabilities like autonomous convergence or divergence. Here, such extraordinary behavior was demonstrated for the first time with the liquid metal vehicle. This synthetic soft machine fueled with an aluminum flake could initiate its autonomous locomotion in an open-top circular channel containing NaOH solution, like a running vehicle. If cutting a large machine into several smaller separately running vehicles, each of them still resumes its traveling state along the original track and chases each other. If the volumes of such dispersive vehicles were close to each other and they were all squeezed in the channel, the vehicles would move synchronously with oscillation. Otherwise, such self-motion would become desynchronized with interval between the inequable vehicles decreased gradually. If their volumes were significantly different, and the smaller vehicles were not squeezed in the channel, the faster vehicle would overtake the slower ones, until they finally coalesced seamlessly. The assembled vehicle could deform itself along with change of its velocity. This finding may shed light on future researches on smart material, fluid mechanics and soft matter to self-fueled machine and biomimics. It would also offer opportunities for constructing self-reconfigurable soft robots.



This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    Mou F, Chen C, Zhong Q et al (2014) Autonomous motion and temperature-controlled drug delivery of Mg/Pt-Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) Janus micromotors driven by simulated Body fluid and blood plasma. ACS Appl Mater Inter 6:9897–9903

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Gao W, Wang J (2014) Synthetic micro/nanomotors in drug delivery. Nanoscale 6:10486–10494

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Yu X, Li Y, Wu J et al (2014) Motor-based autonomous microsensor for motion and counting immunoassay of cancer biomarker. Anal Chem 86:4501–4507

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Wu J, Balasubramanian S, Kagan D et al (2010) Motion-based DNA detection using catalytic nanomotors. Nat Commun 1:36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Zhao G, Pumera M (2012) Macroscopic self-propelled objects. Chem Asian J 7:1994–2002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Zhao G, Seah TH, Pumera M (2011) External-energy-independent polymer capsule motors and their cooperative behaviors. Chem Eur J 17:12020–12026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Hanczyc MM, Toyota T, Ikegami T et al (2007) Fatty acid chemistry at the oil-water interface: self-propelled oil droplets. J Am Chem Soc 129:9386–9391

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Chen YJ, Nagamine Y, Yoshikawa Y (2009) Self-propelled motion of a droplet induced by Marangoni-driven spreading. Phys Rev E 80:016303

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Hashmi A, Xu Y, Coder B et al (2012) Leidenfrost levitation: beyond droplets. Sci Rep 2:797

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Ismagilov RF, Schwartz A, Bowden N et al (2002) Autonomous movement and self-assembly. Angew Chem Int Ed 41:674–676

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Mano N, Heller A (2005) Bioelectrochemical propulsion. J Am Chem Soc 127:11574–11575

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Liu T, Sen P, Kim CJ (2012) Characterization of nontoxic liquid-metal alloy Galinstan for applications in microdevices. J Microelectromech Syst 21:443–450

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Sheng L, Zhang J, Liu J (2014) Diverse transformations of liquid metals between different morphologies. Adv Mater 26:6036–6042

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Tang SY, Sivan V, Khoshmanesh K et al (2013) Electrochemically induced actuation of liquid metal marbles. Nanoscale 5:5949–5957

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Tang SY, Khoshmanesh K, Sivan V et al (2014) Liquid metal enabled pump. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:3304–3309

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Tang X, Tang SY, Sivan V et al (2013) Photochemically induced motion of liquid metal marbles. Appl Phys Lett 103:174104

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Gao W, Pei A, Wang J (2012) Water-driven micromotors. ACS Nano 6:8432–8438

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Gao W, D’Agostino M, Garcia-Gradilla M et al (2013) Multi-fuel driven Janus micromotors. Small 9:467–471

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Zhang J, Yao Y, Sheng L et al (2015) Self-fueled biomimetic liquid metal mollusk. Adv Mater. doi:10.1002/adma.201405438

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Kohira MI, Hayashima Y, Nagayama M et al (2001) Synchronized self-motion of two camphor boats. Langmuir 17:7124–7129

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Ebbens S, Tu MH, Howse JR et al (2012) Size dependence of the propulsion velocity for catalytic Janus-sphere swimmers. Phys Rev E 85:020401

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Yuan B, He Z, Fang W et al (2015) Liquid metal spring: oscillating coalescence and ejection of contacting liquid metal droplets. Sci Bull 60:648–653

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Ilyukhina AV, Ilyukhin AS, Shkolnikov EI (2012) Hydrogen generation from water by means of activated Aluminum. Int J Hydrogen Energ 37:16382–16387

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Deng YG, Liu J (2009) Corrosion development between liquid gallium and four typical metal substrates used in chip cooling device. Appl Phys A 95:907–915

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Flamini DO, Saidman SB, Bessone JB (2006) Aluminium activation produced by gallium. Corros Sci 48:1413–1425

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Lee L, Kim CJ (2000) Surface-tension-driven microactuation based on continuous electrowetting. J Microelectromech Syst 9:171–180

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was partially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51376102).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jing Liu.

Additional information

Jie Zhang and Youyou Yao contributed equally to this work.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (AVI 9508 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (AVI 3257 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (AVI 4023 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (AVI 4019 kb)

Supplementary material 5 (AVI 3288 kb)

Supplementary material 6 (DOCX 22 kb)

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, J., Yao, Y. & Liu, J. Autonomous convergence and divergence of the self-powered soft liquid metal vehicles. Sci. Bull. 60, 943–951 (2015).

Download citation


  • Liquid metal
  • Self-fueled machine
  • Soft robot
  • Autonomous convergence and divergence
  • Soft matter


  • 液态金属
  • 自驱动机器
  • 柔性机器人
  • 自主合并及分离
  • 软物质