Robot Cubes Can Automatically Replicate 3D Objects

03/04/2012 11:29 | Updated 03 June 2012

Imagine designing a prototype toy car on a computer, reaching over into a box of 'sand' and pulling out the freshly assembled model.

That's just what the researchers think could be possible if a new project from the United States comes to fruition.

Researchers at MIT have created a tiny robot cube that, together with a few dozen of its pals, can replicate a nearby object - on their own.

The robots take the form of small, 10mm cubes filled with permanent electro-magnets.

The technique means that no one cube maps the entire object, and no computer is needed to organise them. Instead they build up a picture of the obstacle together, and then send messages to their nearby cubes to self-organise into a replicated version of the model - using magnets to bond together.

The scientists involved think the ingenious robots could be used to prototype gadgets or build replacement parts without the need for a 3D printer.

To do that the robots would have to be orders of magnitude smaller than they currently are - but the scientists are confident they can make it happen.

Whether or not those people who fear the inevitable robot apocalypse are happy about that is neither here nor there.