Suppose you had an object; but, for your application, you required two of them. In the near future, you may be able to place the object into a bag of smart-sand, shake it up, and the sand will sculpt itself into a duplicate. Sounds like a bad science fiction story, but the technology is being developed in the Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Kyle Gilpin and his post-doctorate supervisor Daniela Rus.
The DRL researchers have created algorithms that can facilitate smart sand, and they have designed experiments that test the algorithms on cubes (of ten millimeters to an edge) that are constructed with simple microprocessors and electropermanent magnets (the magnetism is controlled with jolts of electricity).
The algorithms involve the manipulation of individual grains of smart sand, which pass messages back-and-forth and connect together to form a three-dimensional object. Any grains not required are not magnetized; and, when the object is removed from the bag, the unwanted grains of sand remain in the bag. After the object has been used for its purpose it can be recycled by placing it back in the bag, where the grains are de-magnetized, unlinked, and ready for use to build a different object.
The smart sand will be able to create multiple copies, and create larger objects from a small model.
The future is interesting, but make sure that you don’t fall into the smart sand…
Check out the MIT News article for more information and a video that demonstrates the algorithm using a simplified 2-D example.