How can physical assemblies become a medium of communication? BlockNet investigates the potential of architecture as a structural system to communicate information through its building elements. BlockNet is a construction set consisting of NetBlocks, intelligent building blocks that pass information signals to each other through physical contact. NetBlocks are constantly aware of the state of their collective assembly through peer communication, and can use this information to instruct a user how to assemble them or to understand their load distribution.

Design, Hardware, and Modular Assembly

NetBlocks have been design for fabrication in a laser cutter and modular assembly. Each NetBlock has a custom-made LED matrix for output, and a touchpad for input, made from an acrylic surface supported on four button switches. Each block uses four pairs of TX/RX magnetic contact pads to both snap and communicate with neighboring blocks. PCB design is modular consisting of four layers: 2 I/O layers, one layer for the microcontroller, and one layer for communication.

Programmable Interaction

NetBlocks can be used as a self-guided assembly kit: an assembly sequence can be boot-loaded in a root block. Then, each NetBlock can indicate where the next NetBlock must be connected to. Users interact with individual NetBlocks by applying pressure on the push screens. NetBlocks pass on the information to their neighbors through cascading chains until the signal reaches the recipient. The topology of the assembly becomes a tangible internet for connecting humans.


Research conducted at the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with the Center for Bits and Atoms.