Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oh the posthuman possibilities


Imagine tiny robots manufactured by the sheet…and all of it inspired by pop-up books.

That’s what two engineers at Harvard have done, taken a child’s novelty and turned it into an innovative means of mass-production.  As explained on the site for the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences:

“In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.  The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of these microrobots could be fabricated in parallel on a single sheet.”

The robots that result, currently called the Harvard Monolithic Bees, or “Mobees” (no word yet if Moby will take action on this), are the result of an effort to create bio-inspired robots the size of bees that can fly and work in concert in a hive-like manner.  The inventers of this “pop-up” method stress that applications do not stop with microbots but may be applied to other areas of industry.  It might still be a bit premature, but this may be another signifier that manufacturing jobs will continue to decline in numbers. 

Personally, the prospect that really intrigues me is what happens when these robots can be built to even smaller specifications.  I’d like to imagine swarms of these things moving through human circulatory systems, reinforcing the immune system, repairing where needed, and maybe even augmenting if they can.  I wonder what cybernetic possibilities they might hold for the brain and for those who suffer from depression?  Stimulate production of serotonin maybe?  I'm not sure, but interfacing this technology with the human form is the next logical step.  I'll leave it to those blessed with mathematical skill to pettifog over the details.

It’s a transhuman world.  The Luddites are just living in it.


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