Six hundred milliseconds – six-tenths of a second – is not a lot of time.
Plenty of things, though, can still happen within such a short period. It was about the time it took Google’s search engine to recently process results for the term “Westworld.” It is also on par with the translation time from thought to speech: To retrieve a lone word from memory and speak it occurs in the span of roughly 600 milliseconds, psycholinguistics researchers have found. Likewise, scientists who measure brain activity say it also takes about that time for someone to call a truth or lie “true” or “false”.
And in just 637 milliseconds, a robot solved a Rubik’s cube. So a machine proved during a recent stunt at an electronics trade fair in Munich, Germany.
For those who never caught the Rubik’s cube bug, the puzzle consists of six faces painted a separate color and divided into nine sections. Those sections can be scrambled into more than 43 quintillion combinations. The goal is simply to put the colors back again.
To humans fleet of mind and finger, it is possible to solve a Rubik’s cube in a matter of seconds. The officially-recognized Rubik’s cube world record belongs to Lucas Etter, who, at the age of 14, in solved a cube in 4.904 seconds in 2015.
Before the Munich expo, machines had previously cracked the 1-second mark, though not by much. In Germany, a robot named Sub1 Reloaded demolished those records, too. The company behind the robot, Infineon, wanted to show off its microchips and a new microcontroller meant for self-driving vehicles. Sub1 Reloaded consisted of three main parts: a system of camera sensors to determine the cube’s combination, a microcomputer that solved the puzzle and six motorized arms to spin the cube into a solved position.
Although there exists an optimal solution for a Rubik’s cube – no matter how scrambled the cube, it can be solved in no more than 20 moves – Infineon engineer Albert Beer designed Sub1 Reloaded for pure speed rather than the fewest rotations. In the words of Infineon, “It takes tremendous computing power to solve such a highly complex puzzle with a machine.”
Gregor Rodehueser, a spokesman for Infineon, told the BBC the company had submitted paperwork to the Guinness World Records so the 637-millisecond solution time would be verified as the world’s best.
But before the robots get too cocky, we’d like to see them solve a Rubik’s cube behind their backs. And then go play Division I football.
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