From WIRED’s Danger Room:

Even by the standards of the Pentagon fringe science arm, this project sounds far-out: “” that can be ordered to “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.” But researchers back by Darpa are actually making progress on this incredible goal, Henry Kenyon at Signal magazine reports.

One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”

One team from Harvard is working on a kind of “generalized Rubik’s Cube” that can fold into all kinds of shapes. Another is trying to order large strands of synthetic DNA to bind together in a “molecular Velcro.” An MIT group is building “’self-folding origami’ machines that use specialized sheets of material with built-in actuators and data. These machines use cutting-edge mathematical theorems to fold themselves into virtually any three-dimensional object.”

My interest with this is the instant fabrication possibilities that a basic technological building offers.

The commercial potential is incredible. I buy an assembler and some building block goop. Then I slot it with a few basic templates I’ve purchased. Dishes, flatware, bits of a table, objects built out of single pieces or primitives. If I chose, I can lease templates for more complex items. For a few hundred bucks, I can buy a one-time use template from Sony that will spit out an HD television. Transportation and packaging costs would be nil. Think of it as a digital download of a physical object from a service like Steam or Emusic.

Beyond that, the ability to instantaneously create something is part of the Singularity. In order to keep the technological advancement going past a certain point, you’d have to be able to produce ideas as fast as you can think them, something I’ve mentioned before. Starting from a universal building block would make that sort of thing possible.