Self-sculpting sand


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing a type of reconfigurable robotic system called smart sand. The individual sand grains pass messages back and forth and selectively attach to each other to form a three-dimensional object. MIT professor, Daniela Rus, says the biggest challenge in developing the smart sand algorithm is that the individual grains have very few computational resources. The grains first pass messages to each other to determine which have missing neighbors. Those with missing neighbors are either on the perimeter of the pile or the perimeter of the embedded shape. Once the grains surrounding the embedded shape identify themselves, they pass messages to other grains a fixed distance away. When the perimeter of the duplicate is established, the grains outside it can disconnect from their neighbors. The researchers built cubes, or “smart pebbles,” to test their algorithm. The cubes have four faces studded with electro permanent magnets, materials that can be magnetized or demagnetized with a single magnetic pulse. The grains use the magnets to connect to each other, to communicate, and to share power. Each grain also is equipped with a microprocessor that can store 32 kilobytes of code and has two kilobytes of working memory. More information can be found at MITnews web site.

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