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Self-Sculpting "Sand" Can Allow Spontaneous Formation of Tools 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the shape-of-a-sand-tool dept.
parallel_prankster writes "Researchers at MIT are developing tiny robots that can assemble themselves into products and then disassemble when no longer needed. 'A heap of smart sand would be analogous to the rough block of stone that a sculptor begins with. The individual grains would pass messages back and forth and selectively attach to each other to form a three-dimensional object; the grains not necessary to build that object would simply fall away. When the object had served its purpose, it would be returned to the heap. Its constituent grains would detach from each other, becoming free to participate in the formation of a new shape.' To attach to each other, to communicate and to share power, the cubes use 'electropermanent magnets,' materials whose magnetism can be switched on and off with jolts of electricity."
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Self-Sculpting "Sand" Can Allow Spontaneous Formation of Tools

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  • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:20PM (#39550675)
    Nanites = BAD NEWS.
  • Murder Weapon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HockeyPUcX (791205) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:23PM (#39550715)
    Seems like that would make the job of the police more difficult in finding a weapon used in a crime. "We can't find the knife. There is just this pile of sand."
    • by KingSkippus (799657) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:26PM (#39550763) Homepage Journal

      Like that would stop them. Any person in a city with a beach would just be declared a terrorist and sent to Guantana—

      Oh wait... Shit.

    • Re:Murder Weapon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nailer235 (1822054) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:46PM (#39551049)
      We have a technology that could potentially lead to self-organizing micro-particles capable of rapidly forming complex shapes, and your first thought is "What if someone uses this technology to create a club and then clobbers someone over the head with it?"
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by NatasRevol (731260)

        Perhaps he just read that the US Supreme court just ruled that you can be strip searched for ANY arrest.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/us/justices-approve-strip-searches-for-any-offense.html [nytimes.com]

        Makes you a little more paranoid about police powers.

        • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:10PM (#39551355)

          That's why I always walk around naked. Clothing is for people who have something to hide. What are you, a criminal?

          • by tool462 (677306) on Monday April 02, 2012 @02:28PM (#39551593)

            No, just fat.

          • Actually, I wanted to design a tee shirt that says "Fly Naked, Help Fight Terrorism" but it didn't make it through the consistency check. Tattooing it on seems a bit too permanent...
          • by Yvan256 (722131)

            If there ever was a line to show how stupid "X is for people who have something to hide. What are you, a criminal?" is, this is it.

        • When we are arrested we are by definition stripped of certain liberties, and privacy is the first to go. Unpleasant, but that's jail.

          I think jail is the worst possible way to treat most anti-social behaviors, and I find our wholesale imprisonment of the population to be counterproductive beyond idiocy.

          But regardless of whether particular suspects/convicts should be imprisoned, jailers always need to keep out contraband.

        • by chrismcb (983081)

          Perhaps he just read that the US Supreme court just ruled that you can be strip searched for ANY arrest.

          I realize no one reads TFA. But you should if you are going to provide a link. This isn't about ANY arrest, it is about taking people to jail. I'm not saying I agree with the decision. But not everyone who is arrested is taken to jail.

          • Not sure what your point it. The police can take you to jail for any arrest. Thus, they can strip search you for any arrest. Even trumped up ones. Even false ones, like the one argued before the Supreme Court - unpaid fine that actually was paid.

      • What do you expect. Scene 1 of 2010 Space Odyssey pretty much sums up everything you need to know about what is wrong with the world. This just proves no matter how far we go, we never really get anywhere.
      • We have a technology that could potentially lead to self-organizing micro-particles capable of rapidly forming complex shapes, and your first thought is "What if someone uses this technology to create a club and then clobbers someone over the head with it?"

        You must be new here. This is Slashdot, where rampant paranoia is the order of the day and extreme edge cases as treated as if they were hourly occurrences.

        Oh, and tinfoil manufacturers monitor this site daily to predict future demand.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      An icicle has always been the perfect murder weapon.

    • by tchdab1 (164848)

      Stuxnet could be so much more powerful.

  • of Spider-Man 3.
  • Minor correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:35PM (#39550883)

    electropermanent magnets turn off with current, not on. The electromagnet neutralizes the permanent magnet while the circuit is active. This makes the connection via the permanent magnet energy efficient - no current is required to turn it on, only break the bond.

    • Does each grain need a battery (I hope not)? Or how do they get power to do this communication and so on?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nope, TFA is correct: http://www.hizook.com/blog/2010/12/07/electropermanent-magnets-programmable-magnets-zero-static-power-consumption-enable-s

  • by ThunderBird89 (1293256) <zalanmeggyesi@ya ... m minus math_god> on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:36PM (#39550901)

    Miniaturize them far enough, so they can float in the air and still communicate and grip, and you have what's termed a utility fog. Such a fog would be tremendously useful, provided proper authentication and encryption could restrict control to authorized persons: tools could be formed freely and to unheard-of precision, in real-time, responding to the needs of the user; weapons could be supplied with unlimited ammunition that disperses on impact, only to be reformed in the weapon; cars could do away with airbags and seat belts in favor of hardening the atmosphere for a second to affix the passengers in place in the event of a crash; or even enforcing the laws of morality like physical laws (I read this last one in a novel long ago, where the air would harden around the striking fist to block the punch). The possibilities are literally endless, if the technology can be implemented properly.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sounds like a Mass Effect field, if you ask me.

      • A mass effect field is a field wherein the objects contained have a modified mass.

        A utility fog is a particulate cloud composed of miniaturized self-assembling machines.

        You're maybe thinking of an omni-tool, which (IIRC) uses mass effect fields in order to manufacture parts? An omni-tool essentially accomplishes the same thing (on-the-fly assembly of parts) as a utility fog through different means, putting the action in the omni-tool and its mass effect field generator rather than on nano-assemblers in a fo

    • Miniaturize them far enough, so they can float in the air and still communicate and grip, and you have what's termed a utility fog. Such a fog would be tremendously useful, provided proper authentication and encryption could restrict control to authorized persons: tools could be formed freely and to unheard-of precision, in real-time, {snip}

      I can see the new ambulance chaser commercials.

      Do you have mesothelioma caused by utility fog?
      Did ThunderBird Enterprises put you or a loved one
      in danger? We're here to help.

      Call Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe. NOW!

      -AI

    • yes. and you could have a pencil like thingie, maybe longer, to point at the volume of fog that should do what you want. and you should make voice commands for the pencil thingie (let's call it a wand for short). or maybe the wand could spit out the utility fog once you say the right words, and it would come back after the job is done.

      (I'm not trying to make fun of you, I'm just pointing out the obvious conclusion).

    • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Monday April 02, 2012 @03:01PM (#39551917)

      Then you get a fog to read your brain and "upload" you into its systems. Then you have a human-sentient-fog. Wouldn't you trade your physical body for a foglet one?

      • Then you get a fog to read your brain and "upload" you into its systems. Then you have a human-sentient-fog. Wouldn't you trade your physical body for a foglet one?

        That's so pre-Mayan new cycle. There are probably a few of you that are still in simulated old cycle bodies, waiting until you've reached the sentience level required for ascension to the new cycle. The clock is ticking.

    • Why think so small? I, a geek member of the male Slashdot species, will use this technology to create a vast army of Natalie Portmans so that the world may welcome me as their overlord.
    • Why use ammo at all? If the stuff is light enough to be in the air, you could simply point at someone and tell all of the ones in his lungs to form up into a series of razor-like shapes in quick succession. Or have them form into a thin shape that's larger than the lung can contain without rupturing. Or have them simply block all air passages. Death would follow shortly thereafter without ever needing to actually shoot at anyone.

    • by Matheus (586080)

      Best. Socket Wrench. Evar.

  • I for one welcome our Stargate Atlants inspired nanotech-changeling replicator overlords.

  • by MachDelta (704883) on Monday April 02, 2012 @01:45PM (#39551017)

    Two quotes immediately sprang to mind...

    Technological advance is an inherently iterative process. One does not simply take sand from the beach and produce a Dataprobe. We use crude tools to fashion better tools, and then our better tools to fashion more precise tools, and so on. Each minor refinement is a step in the process, and all of the steps must be taken.

            Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Looking God in the Eye"

    and

    Already we have turned all of our critical industries, all of our material resources, over to these...things...these lumps of silver and paste we call nanorobots. And now we propose to teach them intelligence? What, pray tell, will we do when these little homunculi awaken one day announce that they have no further need for us?

            Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We must Dissent"

    • Everyone always assumes a homicidal kill-all-humans AI. Why doesn't anyone ever assume a friendly or benevolent AI will turn sentient first?

      • by imunfair (877689)

        Well, Sister Miriam was the religious zealot faction in Alpha Centauri, so it makes sense that she'd be strongly opposed to non-God created sentient life.

      • Because eradicating humanity in favor of your synthetic life makes perfect sense from an economic ("humans are wasteful, they gobble up resources too fast", etc) and security ("humans are unpredictable, they may turn on us, so in order to ensure our survival, the chaotic variable must be removed") point of view. Unless you hardwire the thing to be friendly, it will eventually turn on humanity, and if your implant human-friendliness as a basic directive, it no longer possesses the free will required of a str

    • by imunfair (877689)

      Alpha Centauri was awesome, way better than the Civ series IMO. Wonder why he didn't go further with that one instead...

    • Great, I just won a game as the Spartans on Trancendi difficulty, now I want to go back and play more.

  • This sounds like a great idea until someone decides to embed DRM into it.
    • This sounds like a great idea until someone decides to embed DRM into it.

      But Smart Sand DRM is there to protect the end user...
      to protect them from someone they don't know making
      a copy of someone else's smart sand.

      Of course, because of Smart Sand DRM, now you have
      to buy smart sand for your car, and for your home theater
      and even to carry around in your pocket. Even though your
      one pile of smart sand would work just fine in each place.
      And even though you already paid for your smart sand once.

      -AI

  • Oh god, here it comes!

    I can't wait for the first industrial accident involving this stuff.

    Required reading: Why The Future Doesn't Need Us [wired.com]
  • Sandy bottoms... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524)
    Speaking for anyone who has ever gotten sand in their ass at the beach, let me say that I'm not sure if I like where this could be going...
  • Replace "magnets" with "money".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    from TFA "researchers will present a _pape_r describing _algorithms_ that _could_ enable such “smart sand.”"

    *ALGORITHMS* that *COULD* enable. Not *CAN*, but *COULD*. and not *SAND*, but *ALGORITHMS*.

    Might as well say, "Tom and Jane colored a sandcastle with crayons that flies."

    but no, it's the commercial internet, so we have to continuously hype every little thing to keep dickheads clicking.

    BTW, all of that "research" in TFA is ripped off of my former colleague Ara Knaian's work on electroperm

  • Finally, a dildo you don't have to hide in the sock drawer!
    • by Americano (920576)

      That's right, with the new VibroSand, you can masturbate secure in the knowledge that embarrassing questions and revelations will be a thing of the past!

      Our tasteful, patented "lube-soaked pile of sand" is something you can display proudly to all of your family and friends when they visit your home!

      Order today, and we'll throw in this tastefully designed display case with special musem-quality track lighting to highlight the beautiful industrial design that went into your one-of-a-kind product!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You did catch that we're talking about sand, right?

  • if you really wanted to screw mankind make them out of some ridiculous metal like adamantium-kryptonanotube alloy or some shit so it would be hard to melt a large number them before they absorb the energy and self-replicate from the next available source of atoms.
  • I think this tech might be a bit far away from us. But imagine injecting tiny blobs into the body that could create a new heart or younger brain. And then there is that twelve inch part that I was born a bit short of.....
  • Perhaps this is the predecessor to a T-1000 type of robot. This concept being "sand" and the next concept being more of a "liquid"
  • Anyone read Trillions by Nicholas Fisk from back in 1971? Sounds like MIT is making science fact..
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday April 02, 2012 @05:50PM (#39553919) Homepage Journal

    Is cube the best shape to use as far as manufacturing and self-assembly goes?

    They talk more or less about re-using blocs by dropping them into a box, but cubes never pack up neatly, no matter which size they are. Is there a geometric shape that stacks automatically in 3D?

    Also, I don't get why they keep writing "10mm" instead of just "1cm".

  • I mean it's cool, but these are the size of Lego blocks, not exactly Sandman from Spiderman II
  • Oh, great, we'll see pre-fab sand castles in stores, taking all the fun out of *that* little competition. Real scientists should not play with sand.

  • Sounds something like the "Smart Metal" from the Kris Longknife Sci-Fi series by Mike Shepherd.

    So once again reality can duplicate Sci-Fi...

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