- Matter Design and CEMEX Global R&D
- Researchers at the design lab Matter Design, many of whom are from MIT, have discovered a way to move objects as heavy as a great white shark with your bare hands.
- One of the researchers, Brandon Clifford, recently debuted the technology at the TED 2019 conference.
- The secret lies in harnessing the same methods used by ancient civilizations to build Stonehenge and the statues on Easter Island.
- Clifford said the building blocks could last an eternity.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
The megalithic structures at Stonehenge have vowed visitors for centuries, but scholars are still working to discover how they got there in the first place.
It seems almost inconceivable that humans could have carried the stones, each with an average weight of 25 tons, on their own, but a group of researchers says it has tapped into a hidden construction method that made it all possible.
In 2014, the researchers at the design lab Matter Design, many of whom are from MIT, began studying the way ancient civilizations built giant structures like the statues on Easter Island or the Egyptian pyramids. Using stones that have the right density and center of mass, they found, humans can actually move objects as heavy as a great white shark with their bare hands.
With help from the construction-research company Cemex Global R&D, the lab found that it could rotate mammoth stones that appear light as a feather, or assemble objects into staircases without trucks or cranes.
To determine which building materials to use and where to place the center of mass, Matter Design relies on a computer algorithm. When the algorithm spots a formula that won’t work in real life, the researchers can make adjustments to ensure the object will be mobile for humans.
“Of course, there are a lot of struggles along the way,” Brandon Clifford, an MIT assistant professor and one of the lab’s partners, told Business Insider.
But “as we’re designing the element,” Clifford said, “we can always ensure that the center of mass is pulled to where it needs to go.”
Clifford recently debuted the lab’s findings at the TED 2019 conference, which focuses this year on larger-than-life ideas. He said the project could change the future of construction by allowing companies to build without cranes, which are often expensive or difficult to access.
They might also be able to avoid demolishing structures. While the typical commercial building is designed to last several decades, Matter Design’s structures could last an eternity, Clifford said. They could also be taken apart to form new configurations.
“We’re trying to think not just about the end product, like elements that you can deploy around the world,” Clifford said. “The project is not limited in scale.”