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MIT 'smart sand' and 'robot pebbles' replicate objects

Researchers at MIT have developed a robotic system for duplicating shapes, a potential alternative approach to three-dimensional printing. The Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT today detailed research aimed at replicating objects by essentially carving them from an unformed pile of "smart sand" or "robot pebbles." The vision is to have these miniature robots automatically create replicas of different sizes with only an original shape to work with.

A key difference from other approaches to replicating objects is that, unlike three-dimensional printing techniques, the smart sand builds by subtracting building blocks from a larger heap, according to MIT. In a paper to be presented next month at a robotics conference, the MIT researchers will describe software algorithms they developed for distributed robots to re-create shapes.

For their three-dimensional research, the group built small cubes, with each side 10 millimeters across, or less than half of an inch. Magnets temporarily activated by electrical current allow them to share information and power.

MIT News: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/smart-robotic-sand-0402.html

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Claytronics and programmable matter; little itty bitty steps but we're making amazing progress nonetheless.
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