Photos (c) M. Scott Brauer, via MIT News.
“Robot Pebbles” is the fairly sweet nickname for MIT’s newest project in “programmable matter” systems. The project’s goals are nothing short of magical: they want to create a universal tool kit that would allow anyone with a bag of “Smart Sand” to create any object, on demand.
Smart Sand is MIT’s shorthand for the tiny programmable pieces of matter that can self-assemble (and disassemble) in the shape of an object nearby. From MIT:
Given a bag of Smart Sand, the user conveys the desired object to the modules and then begin shaking the bag. As the modules in the bag come into contact and exchange information, they decide when to bond with their neighbors. After this selective bonding process, the user opens the bag, grabs the object, brushes off the extra material, and can then use the object for the task at hand. When the user is done with the object, he places it back in the bag where it disintegrates so that the modules can be reused indefinitely.
Right now, researches are using 12mm-square cubes to test the processes they hope to one day scale down to sand-size. The magnetic pebbles are programmed to communicate with each other, and given an object to replicate, they converge to form a rough replica of the static object. The extraneous “sand” then falls away.
The team, headed up by Daniela Rus and Kyle Gilpin (seen above), will present the findings of their research next month at a robotics conference. (Much) More information can be found on the MIT News page.
Image via the Robot Pebbles MIT Wiki.