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 ")

Robot Garbage Trucks Visualized
'It was a bulky, shining cylinder over twenty metres long.' - Harry Harrison, 1956

Rippling Fin Robot Drone Swims And Walks
'... the curious parallelism to animal motions, which was so striking and disturbing to the human beholder...' - HG Wells, 1898.

Cute Teddy Bear Robot Favorite Of Hospitalized Children
'...thought had been given to its programming.' - Anne McCaffrey, 1990.

Robot Dog Learns To Be Doggy From Real Dogs
'So we took pictures of Guzub making a Three Planets, and I could construct this one to do it exactly right down to the thousandth of a second.' - Anthony Boucher, 1943.

 

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

TytoCare Offers Futuristic Home Care
'Immediately an enormous apparatus fell on to her out of the ceiling...'

Powdered Regolith Propulsion
'... filling their great tanks with the finely divided dust which the ionic rockets would spit out in electrified jets.'

Ford's SafeCap, Opposite Of Niven and Barnes' Napcap
'In the napcap a client became an instant yoga master...'

Would You Get 'Chipped'? Michigan May Ban Employers
'Employees above a certain level were implanted with advanced microprocessors...'

Tesla Autopilot: What Does An Autonomous Car See When It Looks At The Road?
'Jeremiah is a sports-model to begin with and that kind is awfully hot-tempered.'

DNA Controls Swarms Of Molecular Robots
'They exist in loose swarms...'

Tether Asteroids To Save Us All
'If anything can glue the asteroids back into the planet they once were, magnology will do it.'

Blaux Your Personal Commuter Cooling Unit
A cooling unit had to be strapped to every commuter's back, by law.

3D Printed Damascus Steel Now Possible
'...lined with durite, that strange close-packed laboratory product.'

R9X Hellfire Missile With Long Blades Kills Queda Leader
'He was still roaring when the knife missile flicked past him...'

Would You Swallow An Origami Robot?
'Swallow it in an emergency--it goes down easily and works just as well inside as outside.'

Perhaps You Might Be Interested In Habitable Exoplanet Moon Real Estate
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Blurry Face Photos Made 60 Times Sharper
Perfect tool for blade runners.

SpaceX Will Build Floating Spaceports!
'...a single perfectly level platform, which rose so high above the water that it was not splashed by the waves.'

Fast Radio Bursts And Space Beacons For Interstellar Navigation
'Every beacon has a code signal as part of its radiation...'

Robot Garbage Trucks Visualized
'It was a bulky, shining cylinder over twenty metres long.'

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.