March 26, 2014

Lego Versus Rubik, It’s A Win For The Bricks

It’s not easy to accept, but I’ve seen the evidence. I am dumber, a lot dumber, than a bunch of Lego bricks. At this year’s recent Big Bang Fair, an annual event aimed at promoting science to young people and held at different venues around the UK each year, a robot constructed from those little Danish plastic building blocks and powered by a mobile phone has solved the Rubik’s Cube puzzle in 3.25 seconds. Try as I might, I never got near to completing the Rubik in three years, never mind three seconds. I knew people who could do it and when they pulled a cube out of a pocket with all the colors in the right place, I feigned respect, secretly thinking how much I hated show-offs. I would inspect the cube for telltale signs that they had pulled the colored stickers off and put them back in the right order, but the stickers were all pristine and untouched. Of course, I confess I knew what to look for – the curled up corners, the slightly off-center repositioning, the little creases that gave the trick away. It was bad enough that humans, or at least some of them, could do it so easily, but a smartphone and a few shiny bricks, where does that leave me? I have always firmly believed in the principle that you can only be made to feel inferior with your consent. In the case of the Rubik robot versus yours truly, I willingly give that consent.

The robot that pulled this off was the third incarnation of the Cubestormer. Its predecessor, Cubestormer 2, held the Guinness World Record at 5.27 seconds, just beating the best human effort of 5.5 seconds set by Dutchman Mats Valk in 2013. The makers of the Cubestormer 3 used a Samsung Galaxy S4 as the brains after supercharging its processor. They thought it was capable of doing the calculations to beat the record, but, as they pointed out, the speed of physical movement needed to crunch the Cube was a potential problem. Too fast for the human eye to follow, the lightning four-armed Lego didn’t let them down.

Although another robot – the Skinner – has done the same trick in only 1 second, the Cubestormer is the only one currently recognized by Guinness World Records.

The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974 and is thought to be the world’s best-selling toy, having reputedly shipped over 350 million units since it first went on sale internationally in 1980. About one in seven people in the world are believed to have handled a Rubik’s Cube, but the number of people who have hurled it through a window or smashed it to pieces with a hammer is not known. Those of us who suffer from RCDS (Rubik’s Cube Deficit Syndrome) are not comforted by the knowledge that, according to the makers, it should be possible to complete the puzzle in 20 moves or less. Just to add insult to perceived injury, other robots at the Big Bang Fair completed the even more fiendish 4-by-4 and 9-by-9 cubes in 1 minute 18 seconds and 34 minutes respectively. Show-offs.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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