MIT’s Crazy Materials Could Make for Self-Assembling Ikea Furniture

To most people, the things Skylar Tibbits makes at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab looks like nothing more than scraps of stuff. But where others see bits of wood and swatches of fabric, Tibbits sees robots. Lots and lots of robots.

They don’t have microprocessors, gleaming titanium skeletons, or an unhealthy obsession in Sarah Connor, but the wood panels and carbon fiber Tibbits’ team fabricates combine sensors, logic, and outputs in ways that could transform everything from airplanes to clothing to flat-pack furniture.

As its name suggests, the Self-Assembly Lab focuses on making things that can, well, self-assemble. It has created a series of small wood planks, for instance, that fold into a toy elephants when exposed to moisture. Tibbits and collaborators Christophe Guberan and Erik Demaine are working on products that could morph in response to the weather. In the future, the Lab’s research could make way for Ikea furniture that assembles itself with a splash of water—no Allen wrench required. … (Read more)