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A swarm of robots turning themselves into bridges, buildings, vehicles, and what not! Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie? Not anymore.

Researchers at MIT and the US Army are working on robot swarms, a bunch of mechanical metamaterials that can assemble to form any structure. The concept is simple—you open a box, and a bunch of Lego-style construction bricks fly out and turn themselves into a structure (example: a building) that you want.

A supermileage vehicle made from the Army and MIT's metamaterials
A supermileage vehicle made from the Army and MIT’s metamaterials

And that’s not all. When those bricks get done being a building, they could be autonomously reconfigured to be a bridge or a boat. Or they could also simply disassemble themselves and return to the storage box until the next use.

A research paper published by the MIT and a US Army think-tank presented a construction method for mechanical metamaterials based on distinct assembly of a given set of modular, mass-produced parts. The researchers have experimentally demonstrated the desired metamaterial property for each part type, and when combined with numerical modeling results, the parts display several unanticipated and useful properties.

Simply put, they’ve created a Lego-style kit of very strong and easy-to-manipulate materials that can be mass-produced quickly and cheaply.
The system’s interlocking voxel pieces use unique AI-generated shapes at the cellular level to work like 3D-printed material, sans the printer.

The research began as an Army thought experiment to develop the cheapest and fastest way for a robot swarm to build a bridge for the troops but has the potential to transform the field of construction. While still in its early phases, the ultimate aim of the research is to produce self-assembling AI-powered construction materials in the form of an adaptable robot swarm.

Not just for the armed forces, but if successful, the technology will revolutionize the construction industry. It would not only shorten the construction time, but will also reduce labor, resources, and the overall carbon footprint. Though the construction sector is seeing a plethora of technological advancements in recent times, this one will definitely take it by storm.

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