Could buildings one day build themselves? It sounds unbelievable, but it’s the very real world of Skylar Tibbits of MIT and Arthur Olson of the Scripps Research Institute, who study how the basic ingredients for molecular assembly could translate to self-assembly technologies at all scales, even large buildings.
This year at TEDGlobal 2012, Skylar Tibbits and Arthur Olson in collaboration with Autodesk Research are exhibiting the BioMolecular Self-Assembly project. Participants at TEDGlobal will each receive a unique glass flask containing anywhere from 4 to 12 red, black or white parts. When the glass flask is shaken randomly the independent parts find each other and self-assemble various molecular structures. The flasks contain a custom tag that identifies the type of molecular structure and the ingredients for successful self-assembly.
Programmable self-assembly has been studied extensively at the molecular level for some time now. However, the first large-scale applications will likely take shape in extreme environments of near-zero gravity or neutral buoyancy, where the application of energy can lead to increases in interaction. Imagine using wave energy underwater to trigger the self-assembly of multistory structures, or parts dropped from high altitudes to unfold fully erected structures, or even modular, transformable and reconfigurable space structures!