MIT's Smart Pebbles Duplicate 3D Shapes

Smart sand or robot pebbles - these are the names given by MIT researchers to small prototype robots that self-assemble into three-dimensional shapes. This is an alternative to other forms of 3D printing.


(MIT smart pebbles)

The cubes — or “smart pebbles” — that Gilpin and Rus built to test their algorithm enact the simplified, two-dimensional version of the system. Four faces of each cube are studded with so-called electropermanent magnets, materials that can be magnetized or demagnetized with a single electric pulse. Unlike permanent magnets, they can be turned on and off; unlike electromagnets, they don’t require a constant current to maintain their magnetism. The pebbles use the magnets not only to connect to each other but also to communicate and to share power. Each pebble also has a tiny microprocessor, which can store just 32 kilobytes of program code and has only two kilobytes of working memory.

The pebbles have magnets on only four faces, Gilpin explains, because, with the addition of the microprocessor and circuitry to regulate power, “there just wasn’t room for two more magnets.” But Gilpin and Rus performed computer simulations showing that their algorithm would work with a three-dimensional block of cubes, too, by treating each layer of the block as its own two-dimensional grid. The cubes discarded from the final shape would simply disconnect from the cubes above and below them as well as those next to them.


(MIT smart pebbles)

Science fiction fans have been given ideas like this to think about for a long time. In his 1954 novel The Invincible, Stanislaw Lem writes about a shape-forming swarm of tiny metal particles.

Update: In his 1920 novel The Metal Monster, Abraham Merritt envisions this same idea, describing living metal cubes that work together to form different strutures "as though a child should build from nursery blocks a fantastic shape which abruptly is filled with throbbing life.":

"...They were such LITTLE THINGS," muttered Drake. "Such little things—bits of metal—little globes and pyramids and cubes—just little THINGS..."

"Bits of metal"—Dick's gaze sought mine, held it—"and they looked for each other, they worked with each other—THINKINGLY, CONSCIOUSLY—they were deliberate, purposeful—little things—and with the force of a score of dynamos—living, THINKING—"

Thanks to Blue Monkey for contributing the tip on this item. End update.

Via MIT: Self-sculpting sand.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/2/2012)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 3 )

Related News Stories - (" Robotics ")

Pipefish Robot Checks Pipes Cheap
Just like capsule endoscopy, but for bigger pipes. That go underground.

Robot Only Faster, Not Better, At Recycling
'Whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window.' - Harry Harrison, 1956.

Do We Really Want Backflipping Robots?
Also includes wonderful blooper reel.

Cassie 'Halfbot' Best Half (Lower) Of Humanoid Robot
We can always make it limp along if it gets threatening.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Orwell's Memory Hole Looms Larger Thanks To Nvidia
'All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.'

Pipefish Robot Checks Pipes Cheap
Just like capsule endoscopy, but for bigger pipes. That go underground.

Nifty New SDS Space Debris Sensor For ISS
'Their radars... could easily pinpoint the debris of the early Space Age.'

NanoRacks Space Station Module Concept Validated
Space junk into space architecture.

Nuclear Drones Could Fly For Years
'I sent my eyes on their rounds and tended my gallery of one hundred-thirty changing pictures...'

SciFiQ Science Fiction Writing Aid
'Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.'

Robot Only Faster, Not Better, At Recycling
'Whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window.'

Poland Starts With 1000 Warmate 'Suicide Drones'
'Royal Security had told the pods to electrocute you or blast you into chum.'

Dream Of Building Your Own Rocket?
Fiorello Bodoni, you inspire all of us.

Zero Mass 'Vaporators' Pull Drinking Water From The Air
Did you think of Star Wars?

Elon Musk Fears A 'Fleet-Wide Hack' Of Autonomous Vehicles
'Khan grinned. 'It's alive! Bu-wahhahahah!''

China Melts Tibetan Permafrost To Plant Forest
'Can you give us a microwave spotlight?'

iFlytek Doctor Robot First To Pass Medical Exams
Doctor shortage? No problem, we'll just use the autodoc.

Slaughterbot AI KIller Quadcopter Drones
'The real border was defended by... a swarm of quasi-independent aerostats.'

Do We Really Want Backflipping Robots?
Also includes wonderful blooper reel.

RNA-Based Biocomputing Device
Living things can sense and analyze complex signals in living cells.

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.