Cube a breakthrough in smart matter

Tom James @ 07-06-2009

darpa_origami2DARPA are still at it busily inventing the all the science-fictional goodness we expect and deserve. Now they’re going in for programmable matter, of a similar flavour to that found in Fire upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, Accelerando by Charles Stross, and Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The goal of the project is to create matter that can “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.”:

One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”

One team from Harvard is working on a kind of “generalized Rubik’s Cube” that can fold into all kinds of shapes. Another is trying to order large strands of synthetic DNA to bind together in a “molecular Velcro.” An MIT group is building “’self-folding origami’ machines that use specialized sheets of material with built-in actuators and data. These machines use cutting-edge mathematical theorems to fold themselves into virtually any three-dimensional object.

Very powerful and potentially gamechanging. Presumably if and when these become available to the general public they will have various restrictions built into them that will promptly be overcome and hacked origami-tools will become the ultimate criminal penknife.

On a more cheerful not this have wonderful applications in art and performance.

[from Danger Room]


It’s alive! – BT looking to artificial life

JustinP @ 07-08-2008

rhizomeQ: What do the Nuer, social insects, and BT have in common?

A: The first two are organised along acephalous (‘headless’) principles, while researchers working for the third have begun to hail the advantages of following suit.

At this week’s Artificial Life XI conference in Winchester, BT researchers explained how ‘[i]nsights from artificial life could soon be helping run [the firm’s] networks’

“If we look at the biological world, there is a huge amount of change, complexity, and adaptation,” said former biologist Paul Marrow who works in BT’s Broadband Applications Research Centre.

“These artificial life ideas are a very useful source of inspiration as the products and services we provide become increasingly complex and demanding in terms of resources.

In stark contrast to the heirarchical structures of traditional network architecture,

BT hopes to tap the secrets of another of life’s defining features called self-organisation

“With self-organisation, you have very simple rules governing individual units that together perform a bigger task – a typical example is ant colonies,” said Fabrice Saffre, principal researcher at BT’s Pervasive ICT Research Centre.

The simplicity of the rules makes for less computation, and therefore is easier on the network. “It’s a very economical solution – especially for problems that are very dynamic. Anything you can do with self-organisation is basically a ‘free lunch’,” said Dr Saffre.

Mmm … rhizomatic! 🙂

[story via the BBC / image by kevindooley, via flickr / for more on the Nuer, see the work of anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard]