Meet the world's first self-assembling chair. I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "What is this, a chair for ants?!" and you'd be right, although at 15 cm by 15 cm, it's more suited to a mouse, or perhaps a burrito-eating hamster. But at this stage, it's not the size of the chair that matters. It's the beginning of some fascinating new research coming out of the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT in the US, which is looking into the autonomous assembly of materials in different environments, such as water, air, and space, led by architecture research scientist, Skylar Tibbits.
Their chair starts off in six different parts, each embedded with a piece of magnet and a connection point, which only allows them to latch on to the correct piece. They're thrown into a special water tank where the currents push the pieces together over and over, in all kinds of configurations, until they finally hook together to form a chair.
"Faster is good, but there's a delicate balance between randomness and control at play in self-assembly. Exert too much control over the system, and you'll be stuck with a one-trick object. Allow too much randomness, and you lose the ability to dictate the final form at all. 'This project is somewhere in the middle,' says Athina Papadopoulou, a researcher in Tibbits' lab. The chair project is more controlled than, say, the lab's work on fluid crystallisation, where 350 submerged spheres aggregate together without a formal shape. Still, there's an element of not quite being able to govern what happens in the tank."
Now that they've got the tiny chair down, the team will be working on increasing the efficiency - several hours aren't exactly gonna cut it in the real world - by making the pieces more interchangeable. So one piece can fit with many different pieces, in many different ways, instead of the connection points being so rigid. Zuniga told Wired that they're now working on a larger project that will see 100 human-sized chairs self-assemble simultaneously.
You'll just need to bring a bathing suit and a good pair of flippers if you want to play musical chairs on them.