MIT built a self-assembling cell phone

Researchers at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab have stepped up their game from an Ikea-like chair that can put itself together: the team built a working cell phone that’s self-building, Fast Company reports, using a basic DIY cell phone design create by MIT professor David Mellis as a model.

How can a phone put itself together? The key is actually simplicity – there are six parts, which combined with a little bit of energy thanks to a tumbler that shakes them around at just the right speed, and ‘programming,’ or implied instructions based on components with lock-and-key puzzle-piece type mechanisms that will only mate with the correct opposite piece, and reject non-compatible ones.

It works a little like how proteins do when forming into cells, and that’s where the inspiration came from  – MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab recognized that self-assembly is actually the way just about everything beyond what we make at human scale is put together, including atoms, naturally occurring chemicals, planets and even galaxies.

But why even bother? Surprisingly, self-assembly might actually be an easier and cheaper way to build electronics. MIT Self-Assembly Lab lead Skylar Tibbits told Fast Company he believes scaling the production method used to build this simple cell phone for mass market making is actually easy, and while it wouldn’t stem the growing tide of manufacturing automation (it’s unlikely anything will), it would reduce the cost of doing so.