Apr.5, 2012

MIT researchers from the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) demonstrated this week the "smart sand," nano-size robot pebbles, each equipped with a rudimentary microprocessor. This "smart sand" could be used for prototyping. Piled together, they form a single computer that can communicate to form three-dimensional objects. The researchers' goals are to allow anyone with a bag of "smart Sand" to create any object on demand.

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.

The pebbles that are used by the team, are 12mm-square cubes, but should eventually become much smaller. Build-in "electropermanent magnets" are controlled by simple CPUs with 2KB RAM and 32KB of code on board to connect to the adjacent cubes. Materials whose magnetism can be switched on and off with jolts of electricity" give the cubes their ability to communicate with each other to determine the perimeter of the object. From there, it duplicates the object's shape in another section of the block, disengages unnecessary parts, leaving you with only the replica and original. The building method uses a subtractive process, opposite of the 3D-printers.

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.

Researchers has demonstrated that its cubes can form two-dimensional structures. Eventually, it will work with three-dimensional structures too. The team is headed up by Daniela Rus and Kyle Gilpin. They will present the findings of their research at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation held in St. Paul, Minnesota this May. More information can be found on the MIT News page.

Photo credit: MIT







Posted in Printing Technology



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Jack Kelly wrote at 4/7/2013 9:30:19 PM:

I can't wait until this 3d printing robot can read my dna and assemble a robotic version of myself! It wont hurt if it is indestructable! Voila, eternal life! ;)

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