These may look like Lego pieces, but don't be deceived: the smart building blocks are made of flexible plastic and stuffed with fluidics channels and electronics, designed to build simple, adaptable robots in double-quick time.
The basic 6x9 stud blocks are 3D-printed using a soft and flexible plastic — a type of elastomer — and can be easily trimmed down to create smaller blocks if required. Within the bricks, it's possible to create large voids, small fluid channels, or even encase electronic devices.
Those extra features mean the bricks can be inflated, pump liquid around their structures, or be used to create reconfigurable circuits. Simple features, sure, but enough to create clever structures that can easily be swapped and changed according to requirement. The next step, though, is most impressive: the researchers hope to have the bricks assemble themselves — and maybe even form themselves into a 3D printer so that they can self replicate.
And from there, the possibilities are virtually limitless; you could configure them to create and run experiments in labs, form a constantly evolving production line, or even piece themselves together into some kind of infinitely customisable coffee machine. Well, we can dream. [New Scientist]