The chair is built from six distinct blocks, each with magnets attached. When dropped into the tank, currents in the water gently push the blocks together, making connections that form the shape of the chair. The project is the work of Skylar Tibbits and his team of researchers, and is part of a set of experiments designed to test how materials may one day be able to self-assemble into structures and objects.
Athina Papadopoulou, one of the researchers in the team, told Wired that the chair struck a delicate balance between control and chaos. With too much randomness, if the chair's parts weren't designed to find their perfect match, then the final product wouldn't recognizably be a chair. But with too much order, if currents were arranged to force the relevant pieces together, then humans might as well build the chair by hand.
As it is, the project is a visual indicator that self-assembly is possible, but you won't be using the lab's chair to sit on any time soon. The chair is only 15 centimeters by 15 centimeters in footprint, and the process of its creation was even slower than if you were to build it yourself — in tests, the chair took seven hours to build itself. But for Tibbits and his team of researchers at MIT's lab, it's a start. According to Wired, the team is planning a larger self-assembly project that will produce hundreds of chairs at the same time, each large enough to actually sit on.