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Technology

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

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."
Space

Evaluating the Capabilities of Chip-Sized Spacecraft 96

kgeiger writes "The Sprite project is testing the feasibility of chip-sized spacecraft. 'Rather than hand building one-of-a-kind spacecraft, we envision constructing spacecraft on wafers in much the same way that common integrated circuits are made today. During fabrication, solar cells and other components would be incorporated with microelectromechanical systems techniques. Instead of exhaustively testing each part, as is done with current spacecraft, engineers will be able to monitor Sprite quality in a less labor-intensive fashion by using statistical process control, testing a few chips from each batch to make sure they meet specifications.' The project's goal is to deploy true 'smart dust,' comprised of 5- to 50-mg single-sensor spacecraft capable of forming deep-space sensor arrays."

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