MIT's "Smart Sand" Could Potentially Replicate Any Object
Some of the most intriguing new ideas tend to sound like something from science fiction, and so it goes with these replicating robot pebbles from the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Essentially, the concept is a sandpit that allows you to put in a small model of an object and then the magic sandpit will replicate it in full size, duplicating it exactly. What? Exactly.
It’s not actually “smart sand” at the moment, but rather a robot pebble system that duplicates objects by identifying and duplicating the borders of the shape immersed in these small robots. They’ve conducted experiments in 2D and believe they can replicate them in 3D while also reducing the size of the “pebbles”. Rather than the additive method used in 3D printing, this duplication technique uses a subtractive method, as the MIT site explains:
A heap of smart sand would be analogous to the rough block of stone that a sculptor begins with. The individual grains would pass messages back and forth and selectively attach to each other to form a three-dimensional object. The grains not necessary to build that object would simply fall away. When the object had served its purpose, it would be returned to the heap. Its constituent grains would detach from each other, becoming free to participate in the formation of a new shape.
These “pebbles” have magnets surrounding their outside and processors to give them a small amount of computing power. They each measure 10 millimeters along each edge. These “‘electropermanent magnets’, materials whose magnetism can be switched on and off with jolts of electricity” give the cubes their ability to communicate, attach, and share power with one another.
Check out the video above for the full explanation and the MIT News site for further info.
Images: M. Scott Brauer