MIT researchers are developing small magnetic cubes that can communicate with each other to auto-duplicate objects in a “sand box” using a subtractive production algorithm.
3D printing is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Typically, this printing is achieved using additive processes, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material. It is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques which mostly relied on the removal of material by drilling and cutting.
Enter Smart Sand: a new project working to create 3D objects by simply putting a small model design into a vat of sand which, as it senses that model’s shape, creates a 3-D version of the object from only that information. For example, if you put in a small bowl, the material would sense the bowl’s negative space and communicate with sand on the other side of the “sandbox” to create a new larger bowl.
Having the capability to manufacture objects like these can be very appealing to companies looking to save time and resources from existing 3D printing methods. Currently MIT professor Daniela Rus and student Kyle Gilpin, the team behind Smart Sand, are focused on developing an algorithm to make their approach possible — a hyper-efficient language that’s simple enough for each grain of sand to understand without massive processing power. It’s only with this language that the idea could hope to translate to a smaller scale.
They envision the system being used for rapid prototyping or reproducing broken objects, such as car parts that need replacing. “Say the tie rod in your car has sheared,” said Gilpin. “You could duct tape it back together, put it into your system and get a new one.” The team will present the research at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation next month.
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