By David L. Chandler
Today’s commercial aircraft are typically manufactured in sections, often in different locations—wings at one factory, fuselage sections at another, tail components somewhere else—and then flown to a central plant in huge cargo planes for final assembly.
But what if the final assembly was the only assembly, with the whole plane built out of a large array of tiny identical pieces, all put together by an army of tiny robots?
That’s the vision that graduate student Benjamin Jenett, working with Professor Neil Gershenfeld in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), has been pursuing as his doctoral thesis work. It’s now reached the point that prototype versions of such robots can assemble small structures and even work together as a team to build up a larger assemblies.