U.S. Markets closed

This Self-Assembling Chair From MIT May Be the Answer to Our IKEA Woes

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
Yahoo Tech

C’mon, chair, you can do it! (Via MIT)

There are few tasks more infuriating than assembling a piece of furniture. But a new project at MIT may eventually eliminate that pesky life chore entirely.

As Wired’s Liz Stinson reports, the loopy geniuses over at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Self-Assembly Lab recently debuted a chair designed to put itself together, without the need for a single vaguely illustrated instruction manual. 

It works like this: Researchers plopped six separate objects into a tub of water. Inside each of these objects is one or more specially designed magnets, installed at key connection points. Each magnet is made to be attracted to only its perfect match, so there’s no chance that the chair will accidentally put itself together upside down.

Think of it like Saturday night at your local bar. As the water in the tank tosses the pieces around, they bump together until each connection point is eventually united with its intended partner. Of course, both the construction of each piece and the environment it is placed in have a huge effect on the process. Researchers must consider the size, weight, and construction of each block, not to mention the turbulent force and volume of water in the tank that the whole bundle is placed in. 

Eventually the chair — all 15 by 15 centimeters of it — comes together over a period of seven hours. That’s not necessarily faster than putting together a Bojne armchair yourself, but it’s a good start to understanding how, exactly, a model like this might work in the real world.

The self-assembling chair is the latest experiment in an area of research, headed by scientist Skylar Tibbits, that studies how objects might be able to assemble themselves in “complex and uncontrolled” environments like water, space, and air. Previous projects included the assembly of balloons, which joined together to form a cube in the air, and “programmable wood" that can curve to adapt in extreme environmental conditions. 

These are all just lab experiments at the moment, but they could very well bring us even a smidgen closer to one day simplifying the needlessly complex process of assembling IKEA furniture. God’s work.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.