IKEA self-assembling stools and tomorrow's substance programming technology

    imageIn his speech at Autodesk University in Moscow, Carlos Olguin talked about the very interesting research that his team is doing together with leading scientists from world universities. It was about technologies for programming the substance, both living and nonliving, self-organization of various structures, the future and self-assembled stools from IKEA. Following the presentation, I managed to ask Carlos some additional questions. Under the cut our conversation and video of his speech.

    - Carlos, what is the Cyborg project (1) that you are working on?
    - This is a meta platform for design, analysis, simulation, printing, automation of all new emerging areas, including 3D printing. The project is cloud-oriented, with its help we want to lower the “access level” for new participants.
    Now amazing new businesses appear and thrive on the Internet: social networks, cloud technologies. But they would not exist if Assembler was the most developed programming language. As a software company, we track the development of new economies and prepare tools to make these areas accessible to a fairly wide range of researchers and developers. I think this is the most important thing. Yes, of course, we are counting on financial success, but it seems even more important to update our own ideas about how to create values ​​in the modern world, how to make them renewable, reduce environmental pollution, how to raise the standard of living with their help, and so on. All this requires other, new approaches to tool design.
    - In your presentation, you showed a programmable molecular model in which red and green balls were attracted to each other by various algorithms and repelled each other, forming some moving structures. This model in its behavior pretty much resembled the old mathematical game "Life" (Game of Life). Is this analogy true?
    - Yes, only my example was in 3D. This game is also a set of rules from which a certain system emerges, one of the examples of programming a substance; it is no coincidence that it is called Game of Life.
    “However,“ Life ”is characterized by the fact that the structures created in it sooner or later inevitably become quite stable (even if they are in motion), and the model shown is constantly changing.
    - It all depends on the rules being set, this is decided by the programming of the substance. The structure can be both stable and constantly changing, if you set the necessary rules. Well and still - we all consist of chaos of molecules and cells which are in movement, constantly collide with each other. But from this chaotic movement, order is born, so life is arranged on a nano-scale, and perhaps these stable structures in the game “Life” at the nano-level are equally unstable. In fact, you still noticed the structure in the demonstrated example with red and green molecules, so perhaps this demonstration more accurately conveys what happens in life, in our bodies, than the game.
    - But if we are talking about large-scale, rather than cellular, 4D printing (2), then such static is important - no one wants his self-assembled stool from IKEA to decide to evolve into a floor lamp at night.
    - Yes, but it must be taken into account that in such models the processes are much slower than at the molecular level, the scale is completely different. We ourselves change over time, grow old, and eventually die. But at a particular point in time we are quite stable.
    - You talk more about bioprinting at the nano level, in medicine, and not about 4D printing. Is this due to the fact that bioprinting is here and now, and is 4D printing a thing of the future?
    - Well, there’s still time left for the final “growing up” of bioprinting, maybe even many years, but now it has specific applications. Companies ... so Organovo is already actively engaged in this technology. But we are in motion, constantly exploring different possibilities, trying to consider areas that no one has thought of before us. So, in general, I would say that full-fledged bioprinting is still far away.
    But returning to your question about medicine, you need to understand that in its pure form, cell printing is not the only use of bioprinting. Already print food, for example. People like Lee Crowning from the University of Glasgow are looking for other uses for bioprinting. He is a genius, he is full of ideas in the field of printing chemical compounds, for example, individual medicines. His group invents a kind of conveyor: you print the tissue of the body, you print the chemical compound, you see what effect this chemical compound will have on the fabric. An automatic process is created in which the conditions of the disease and its treatment can be recreated, significantly accelerating the discovery of new drugs. This example shows that even in medicine, researchers are far from realizing those promising prospects that are already visible.
    - You showed large-scale models that changed in water, how do you imagine them in real life? After all, if we are talking about cells, then this is living matter, and, for example, a chair is inanimate. How can technology help 4D printing? Or is it too early?
    - Both I and many researchers are considering scenarios in which materials are created that can change - not only gather in a given structure, but, for example, expand, “treat” themselves or even multiply. In this regard, the concepts of “living” and “inanimate” matter become rather vague, the difference is only in biological and non-biological origin. Materials possessing such characteristics when they appear (but they are not yet available) can also in principle be called “living”. What we are showing now is what prof. Skylar Tibbits from MIT, some elements, in particular self-assembly, can be reproduced in inanimate materials, but this is just a vector, and you can only try to imagine where he will lead us.
    - What is the role of Autodesk in these processes? How do you see your involvement in them?
    - We want to be the most important “gene” in the “genome” of future economies, which will flourish on the basis of such studies. To do this, we must strive to democratize these technologies so that more scientists and students have access to them. They can create unpredictable things by crossing knowledge from different fields. In order for this to happen, we need tools, a common platform, and this is what we are doing in the framework of the Project Cyborg.
    - In the presentation there was a screenshot signed by Molecular Maya - is this some special version of Maya for nano-models?
    - Yes, this is a plugin for Maya, which was made by Gel McGill (Gaël McGill) (3), but in fact we want to go further, create a platform on which we can explore and describe these new areas, as well as combine them. Now bioprinting infrequently involves simulation of processes, for which Molecular Maya is intended, and we want such ties to flourish in the framework of the Cyborg Project.

    Video recording of Carlos in Moscow:

    1. The Cyborg project - www.autodeskresearch.com/projects/cyborg
    2. Large-scale 4D printing, also known as human-scale 4D-printing: printing objects that are visible to the eye and which undergo changes over time. For example, a chair from IKEA, which collects itself, being in certain conditions (in the light, in heat, etc.). More complex designs require constant change. The fourth dimension in the name is time.
    3. Gel McGill (Gaël McGill) on his website www.molecularmovies.com demonstrates videos created using Molecular Maya.

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