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Surprisingly Simple Scheme for Self-Assembling Robots

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A prototype M-Block robot.

A prototype of a new modular robot, with its innards exposed and its flywheel which gives it the ability to move independently pulled out.

Credit: M. Scott Brauer

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed M-Blocks, cube-shaped robots with no external moving parts that can climb over and around one another, leap through the air, roll across the ground, and move while suspended upside down from metallic surfaces.

Each M-Block contains a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. When the flywheel is braked, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube. In additionally, each edge and every face of the M-Block is equipped with magnets that help the cubes attach to one another.

Although the researchers say the ultimate goal is to miniaturize the modules, they believe a more refined version of their system could prove useful even at its current scale. "It's a low-tech solution to a problem that people have been trying to solve with extraordinarily high-tech approaches," says Cornell University professor Hod Lipson.

The MIT researchers are building an army of 100 cubes, each of which can move in any direction, and are designing algorithms to guide them. "We want hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand," says MIT's John Romanishin.

From MIT News
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