MIT’s self-assembly lab has created cell phones that build themselves, in a manner of speaking. There’s no fancy nano- or bio- technology involved, nothing theoretical or suggestive of a near-future Singularity. It’s devilishly simple, because the whole project boils down to throwing phone parts into a rock tumbler.
The group—which previously made self-building furniture—took a very simple cell phone design and, with the help of designer Marcelo Coelho, added magnetized snap-together locks at the corners of each of its six pieces. The locks are made such that the phone can only fit together the correct way. Toss it all into a rotating cylinder (think of a small clothes dryer) and, with enough time it comes out a working phone through random collisions.
Not exactly what most people picture when they hear “MIT” and “self-assembling,” but simplicity is what makes the project so brilliant. Because it’s so bare-bones it would theoretically be a breeze to implement and scale. And while humans might be able to accomplish this task faster for the time being robots can stay on 24 hours a day. Essentially, some mechanical force and dumb luck might be responsible for ending an entire class of tedious assembly jobs, for better or for worse.
Will tiny cement mixers be making our iPhones soon? Almost certainly not. But they might present a future where very cheap, robot-spun phones dominate the market based solely on cost.