There are lots of examples of organisms that reshape in order to perform certain activities, from octopi to humans who flex their muscles when they have to carry a load. The challenging thing for the researchers was to find a material that can not just change shape, but also hold it for as long as necessary and then return to the original one. They ended up with liquid metal.
The exoskeleton is made of LMPA (low melting point alloy) embedded inside a rubber skin, with this composite being able to quickly hold the desired shape when stretched. For the structure to be able to return to its original shape, researchers incorporated soft, tendril-like heaters that convert the metal to liquid at 140 F (60 degrees C), reversing the stretching and pulling the material back into its original shape.
Virginia Tech’s team is very optimistic about the applications this technology can have when combining the material with motors, onboard power, and control, claiming it can be used for developing multifunctional robots. And as proof, they created a drone that can autonomously morph from ground vehicle to aircraft. Not just that, but they also made a small submarine that can retrieve objects from an aquarium.
You can get a better idea of how it all works in the video below.