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3-D Print and Rubik's Cube-ify Almost Anything

As if a traditional Rubik's Cube wasn't hard enough, a new algorithm can turn any shape into a twisting puzzle and then create it on a 3D printer

2 min read
3-D Print and Rubik's Cube-ify Almost Anything
Image: Columbia University

A Rubik’s Cube is a 3-D puzzle designed to be enjoyed for 15 minutes, loathed 30 more minutes, and then placed in a drawer and forgotten. This is because the utility of a solved Rubik’s Cube is less than the utility of an unsolved Rubik’s Cube, so there is simply no motivation to solve it. 

But imagine if you could turn any object whatsoever into a puzzle that needs to be solved before you can use it. That would be fun, right? Sure it would, if by “fun” you mean “the worst.” So let’s do it!

Two computer science students from Columbia University have developed a method that allows people who have no idea what they're doing to create twisting 3D puzzles from arbitrary 3D models. Once you have the model in a computer, you can select your own rotation planes, and an algorithm will munch through everything, adjusting your model to prevent collisions and then 3D printing all the bits and pieces so that they interlock and rotate properly:

At the moment, this method works best with 3D models that have a large spherical component to their design, although the researchers are working on generalizing their technique. They’re also experimenting with ways of allowing some pieces to block the rotation of other pieces, which would allow for more rotational axes while also potentially enhancing the difficulty of the puzzle. From the sound of things, the biggest source of frustration has been the 3D printing itself, which makes assembly tricky and leaves the puzzles a bit fragile. So other potential improvements would be automatic generation of assembly instructions along with optimization of joint design for robustness.

Computational Design of Twisty Joints and Puzzles, by Timothy Sun and Changxi Zheng from Columbia University, will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2015 in Los Angeles, but you can read the full-length paper ahead of time here.

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Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work

If technologists can’t perfect it, quantum computers will never be big

13 min read
Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work
Chad Hagen

Dates chiseled into an ancient tombstone have more in common with the data in your phone or laptop than you may realize. They both involve conventional, classical information, carried by hardware that is relatively immune to errors. The situation inside a quantum computer is far different: The information itself has its own idiosyncratic properties, and compared with standard digital microelectronics, state-of-the-art quantum-computer hardware is more than a billion trillion times as likely to suffer a fault. This tremendous susceptibility to errors is the single biggest problem holding back quantum computing from realizing its great promise.

Fortunately, an approach known as quantum error correction (QEC) can remedy this problem, at least in principle. A mature body of theory built up over the past quarter century now provides a solid theoretical foundation, and experimentalists have demonstrated dozens of proof-of-principle examples of QEC. But these experiments still have not reached the level of quality and sophistication needed to reduce the overall error rate in a system.

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