MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab Teaches Inanimate Objects to Think


Skylar Tibbits’ MIT laboratory has created several materials that assemble themselves

If you met Skylar Tibbits at a party and the small talk, like it often does, turned to employment, it wouldn’t be long before you started to wonder if Tibbits was entirely sane. After all, this is a guy who supposedly spends his time teaching inanimate objects to think for themselves.

But Skylar Tibbits isn’t delusional. He’s one of those rare people whose crazy ideas actually turn out to be brilliant.

Tibbits is an architect, research scientist, and faculty member at MIT. His lab, the self-assembly lab, is currently working on a series of materials that automatically assemble themselves.

These self-assembled materials come in a few different flavors. Those that were created using a 3D printer are activated through water, but some utilize magnetics or a biomolecular reaction. However, they all have one thing in common: they look like magic.

The project that’s getting the most attention is a process that Tibbits refers to as “4D printing” (the fourth dimension being time). “What we’re saying here is, you design something, you print it, it evolves,” he said during an interview with Wired. “It’s like naturally embedding smartness into the materials.”

“There’s new possibilities for self-assembly, replication, repair in our physical structures, our buildings, machines,” he explained. “Imagine if our buildings, our bridges, machines, all of our bricks could actually compute.”

I’m automatically suspicious of anything that can’t be killed by smashing, but I’ll be interested to see what kind of practical usefulness Skylar’s team manages to uncover.

Source: Self Assembly Lab, TED

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