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October 9, 2013 / John Hawkins

Self Assembling Robots – Or The Next Rubik’s Cube

MIT Researchers are reporting that they have created a system for self assembling robots… almost.

http://mashable.com/2013/10/06/self-assembling-robots/

In a cute video they show a collection of colored cubes bouncing around and latching onto each other in various configurations. They have solved an enormous number of  interesting engineering problems, and no doubt there are some applications (a Rubik cube that can solve itself would get my money), but… are they really self assembling robots?

They assemble themselves into configurations on the basis of the minimal unit of one cube. They have no way of building a cube themselves, and hence replacing one that is broken. Perhaps that is too harsh a requirement to qualify as self-assembling: after all assembly means only putting the parts together and these guys are defined such that the parts are the individual cubes.

More importantly if you listen carefully to the researchers they reveal that all the software runs on external computers and communicates with the cubes to make them jump into the required configurations. In this sense they are not at all self assembling, the external device has an overview of the system and determines the next configuration. Thus the end product is not an emergent organisation from a set of decentralized autonomous units, but good old fashioned centralized control.

Sigh, it seems true self-assembly will have to wait for another day.

 

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