MIT Prof: Self-Assembling and Repairing Buildings Are On the Way

Interesting Engineering

It is a new era for engineering. According to MIT Professor Skylar Tibbits, machines and buildings will be replicating, self-assembling, and repairing themselves soon.

Skylar Tibbits founded the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT’s International Design Center. The center focuses on programmable and self-assembly material technologies for products, manufacturing, and construction processes.

Tibbits points to a fictional question he's working to solve: is it possible to make buildings and machines that make themselves? He firmly believes so.

According to Tibbits, currently, we manufacture amazingly complex technologies made of concrete, steel, or glass that are 2.5 million parts or more. Those parts frequently find themselves in need of fixing. Natural systems, on the other hand, are just as complex as the robotics or buildings we create. However, they fix and 'heal' themselves. Tibbits said the key is translating this amazing natural system into manufacturing and building environment.

self-assembling2[Image source: TED]

Tibbits says that if we want to utilize self-assembly in our physical environment, there are key factors. The first is that we need to decode all of the complexity of what we want to build basically the DNA of how our buildings work. Then we need:

* Programmable parts that can take that sequence and use that to fold up, or reconfigure.
* Some energy that's going to allow that to activate, allow our parts to be able to fold up from the program.
* And some type of error correction redundancy to guarantee that we have successfully built what we want.

self-assembling4[Image source: TED]

Tibbits exhibited two large-scale reconfigurable robots he is currently working on, named MacroBot and DeciBot. These bots are actually 8 ft. and 12 ft. long proteins, respectively. Both robots are embedded with mechanical-electrical devices and sensors. They can decode what you want to fold up into, into a sequence of angles. Each unit takes its message, rotates to that, checks if it got there and then passes the message to its neighbor.

decibot[Image source: TED]

"They have all of the information embedded in them of what was constructed. So that means that we can have some form of self-replication. In this case, I call it self-guided replication, because your structure contains the exact blueprints. If you have errors, you can replace a part. All the local information is embedded to tell you how to fix it. So you could have something that climbs along and reads it and can output at one to one. It's directly embedded; there is no external instructions."

Tibbits says all this tells us there are new possibilities for self-assembly, repair, and replication in our physical structures, machines, and buildings. New programmability in these parts creates new possibilities for computing.

"Imagine if our buildings, our bridges, machines, all of our bricks could actually compute. That's amazing parallel and distributed computing power, new design possibilities. So it's exciting potential for this. So I think these projects I've shown here are just a tiny step towards this future if we implement these new technologies for a new self-assembling world."

SEE ALSO: Helium Could be Key to Balancing Two-Legged Robots

If you like to get further information check Self Assembly Lab here.


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