Digital World Native

MIT researchers are developing mobile phones that self-assemble

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The Self-Assembly Lab at MIT has taken it upon itself to someday have high tech gear that manufactures itself. This Lab, which is led by MIT Department of Architecture research scientist Skylar Tibbits, was originally dedicated to 4D printing, which uses 3-D printers to create materials that grow & change on their own. Its latest project, with designer Marcelo Coelho, is to have a few electronic components assemble themselves into a mobile phone without any human or robotic intervention.

The Lab has been around since 2011, & working with funding from DARPA, the US Department of Defense’s main research group, on self-constructing projects with programmable materials & components, like textile that turns into self-lacing sneakers & flat-packed furniture that can build itself.

The mobile phone project is based on another previous effort by MIT’s David Mellis, the DIY cell phone, which was originally based on an open-source tech design based on a kit with a number of components that anyone could assemble into a phone. The current prototype consists of 6 parts which are put into a tumbler, like a washing machine or cement mixer, & are let move around until they wind up clicking together to form a phone. The whole process can take as little as a minute to complete.

According to the researchers, the self-assembly process is reminiscent of how proteins work when they form cells. The Lab’s aim is to take what we have learned about the way that natural objects work, such as cells, atoms & even planets, & apply it to how humans can build things.

The Self-Assembly Lab team working on the mobile phone project expects that in the future, the process for self-assembling phones will end up being much simpler & cheaper than current mass production processes, & that it will scale up to make this a reality.

Another advantage of this approach to manufacturing is that it allows a great deal of design possibilities, as big shops will be able to quickly create a large number of design variations on a single product, & smaller design studios will be able to achieve large scale production without having to heavily invest on production overhead.

Image Credit: MIT