The demonstration video for this venture makes a profound level: nearly every little thing that people create is constructed from the top-down — we use massive issues (each literal and when it comes to funding) to make smaller issues. However nature does the alternative by utilizing small, fundamental constructing blocks (cells) to kind bigger organisms which can be extra complicated than the sum of their components. Nature’s method is way extra environment friendly and affords an enormous quantity of flexibility. In a quest to duplicate nature’s magnificence, MIT CSAIL engineers developed these magnetic “robots” that may selectively assemble themselves to realize complicated varieties.
The cubes are programmed with matrices of magnetic pixels. (📷: M. Nisser et al.)
Every of those robots is a small dice about an inch to a aspect. They don’t comprise any digital elements or technique of actuation, which makes the “robotic” moniker somewhat tenuous. That brings the associated fee for every unit right down to a mere 23 cents. Like most organic cells, a single one among these robots isn’t able to attaining something. However many working collectively can turn into one thing extra. These robots nonetheless aren’t able to interacting with their atmosphere, regardless of what number of there are. Nonetheless, they will assemble themselves into pre-programmed (and reprogrammable) preparations.
They key to this potential is mixel (magnetic pixel) know-how, which we lined a few months in the past. That article even hinted at these robots. Every of a robotic’s six faces is a mixel show, which implies that it’s a magnetic floor that may obtain polarization. Importantly, particular person factors on the floor (the mixels) can obtain distinctive polarization. So the mixel positioned at coordinates (20,45) will be optimistic, whereas the mixel positioned at (21, 45) will be unfavorable. By making the mixel “picture” on every face distinctive, the group can be sure that a given face on one dice solely attaches to an identical face with the inverted mixel picture on one other dice.
The distinctive mixel pictures decide which cubes connect to one another and in what orientation. To pressure them into interplay, the group put a bunch of cubes into a bath of turbulent water. Because the robotic cubes tumble round within the water, they finally discover their mates by sheer likelihood. Given sufficient time, all of them connect as designed to kind a whole object.
That is cool, however has restricted utility as it’s. Nonetheless, think about if every dice had been smaller — a lot smaller. A manufacturing unit might churn on tiny cubes and program them with mixel pictures. Then an finish consumer might merely dump them right into a bottle of water, shake the bottle round, and pull out an assembled object.
Extra particulars will be discovered within the group’s paper right here.