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Can you make a computer out of Cubelets?

Indeed you can!  Do you know what a Turing Machine is? It’s a type of a computer, or, well, it’s a model of a computer. A simplified computer, with a memory tape and a read/write head that moves back and forth along the tape. It’s a funny little type of a computer, but it’s interesting in that with a Turing Machine, you can do any kind of digital computation that we can think of. Maybe not in a super optimized fashion, but… LOOK! Here’s a Turing Machine made with Cubelets and some LEGO bricks:

This construction was built by Genaro J. Martínez and students and collaborators at ALIROB (Artificial Life Robotics Lab) in Mexico. I think it’s brilliant. There’s a web site with a few more videos and all of the code has been published there too. You’ll see a ton of neat little programming features in these robots:  Rotate Cubelets, for example, can only be controlled by specifying a speed, not a position.  Check out how they use a distance Cubelet as a “stop” to recalibrate the little swinging arm after each swing.

Most of the Cubelets we make end up in elementary or middle school classrooms.   So we spend a lot of time working on making Cubelets accessible, educational, and intriguing: focusing on the low-threshold aspects more than the high-ceiling aspects.  It’s nice to be reminded that Cubelets are actually a universal computational material, a medium, capable of supporting some pretty advanced thought experiments.