Feeds

Scientists refine smart self-assembling building blocks

'Smart sand' replication algorithms proven

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have shown how to code smart substances that can automatically copy an object and reproduce it.

The team from MIT's Distributed Robotics Laboratory have developed a testable algorithm that uses interlinking smart systems – in this case, "smart pebbles." These are cubes one centimeter across that contain four magnets and a basic processor, which map out the shape of objects they surround and communicate it to each other.

Once the shape of the object has been identified, the position of the smart cubes is remembered and used to replicate more copies of the original. The eventual goal is to engineer "smart sand," a series of tiny, intelligent units that can be used not only to provide copies of objects, but also to form and reform into a series of specific tools.

Student Kyle Gilpin, who worked on the project, said that the current smart pebbles are limited by engineering. For example, they only work in two dimensions at the moment, because "there just wasn't room for two more magnets."

The processing units themselves can also only run 32KB of program code with around 2KB of memory. But as engineering techniques improve, the possibilities become more interesting.

Robot pebbles under construction

Robot pebbles under construction

Robert Wood, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard University, said this was certainly possible. "Take the core functionalities of their pebbles," says Wood, director of Harvard's Microrobotics Laboratory. "They have the ability to latch onto their neighbors; they have the ability to talk to their neighbors; they have the ability to do some computation. Those are all things that are certainly feasible to think about doing in smaller packages.”

Such devices are certainly getting smaller. When one current El Reg hack first wrote about such units five years ago, they were 4.4cm across. Assuming a steady rate of shrinkage, we might have smart sand within the next 50 years.

The full work by MIT's team will be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation next month. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?