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When the Rubik's Cube burst on the scene in the U. Except that, instead of humans attempting to "speed cube" to a solution in less than 10 seconds, many Rubik's Cube fans today build robots to do it for them.
For year-old Connor Abbott, building a Rubik's Cube-solving bot gave him a chance to practice his computer programming skills and learn from other accomplished bot makers. Abbott's bot also served as a competitor to challenge year-old brother Ryan's speed-cubing prowess. Connor Abbott got the idea for his robot from reading about Cube enthusiasts who had built bots to solve the puzzle using the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit. For the uninitiated, Mindstorms is a Lego product that includes most of the components needed to build a robot, including the company's trademark bricks as well as three servo motors, four sensors ultrasonic, sound, touch, and light , gears and axles.
This changed last year when Connor discovered a robot via the Web that was built from a single NXT kit by Daniele Benedettelli , 24, a programmer studying robotics and automation at Italy's University of Siena. Benedettelli's bot can be seen at his Web site. Kociemba expressed surprise at Connor's choice to use OPTIQTM, given that the program can take anywhere from minutes to hours to find the "optimal" solution for solving a Cube, depending on how many times the puzzle has been twisted and turned.
The program can, however, compute a solution "in a reasonable time" if the puzzle is scrambled using 19 moves or fewer, he says. Connor's robot, like Benedettelli's, uses a Web camera to read the Cube's different colors and their configuration on the scrambled Cube , data that is then sent to the puzzle-solving software.
Cube enthusiasts have been building robots for years to solve the puzzle, and it is common for them to learn from one another's work. One of the earliest examples of a Rubik's Cube-solving bot was created by Jonathan Brown , 45, an archaeological conservator at Chicago's Field Museum, in using an earlier version of Mindstorm. Although Connor benefited from the work of several other Cube enthusiasts as well, his programming abilities have raised eyebrows. Despite Connor's hard work, the bot's best time was 90 seconds, good enough to beat Ryan only once out of five times.
Ryan's best time during the head-to-circuit competitions was 75 seconds, although Connor says his brother has since trimmed that to 45 seconds. A video of the robot's victory is available via YouTube, as is a video of Ryan's revenge.
He is now writing his own Cube-solving software to eventually replace Kociemba's in his system. The reason "I want to use my algorithm instead of somebody else's is because of it's complexity," he says, "and being able to say that I wrote a version of it.
Larry Greenemeier is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American , covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Larry Greenemeier Larry Greenemeier is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American , covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Sign up for our email newsletter.