Self-assembling cubic robots with no external moving parts
Daniela Rus is not the kind to accept defeat, or should we say predicted defeat. In 2011, when addressing to MIT Sr John Romanishin, with in mind the idea of producing modular robots, she received a simple yet firm answer that it “can’t be done”. Same opinion given by Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University. Not accepting discouragement and moving forward in her creating process, Rus, now a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL, teamed up with John Romanishin and Kylie Gilpin to reveal the truth: it can be done! Veracity goes under the name ”M-Blocks” aka cubic robots with absolutely no external parts but still impressively lively! Indeed, they are able to climb over each other, jump through the air, roll and circulate while in contact with one another. M-Blocks are based on the simplification of self-assembly algorithms due to tailor-made devices. The uniqueness of the system consists in the dependence on inserted magnets, meant to bring back the robots at a predicted place, when landing. Static instability is controlled by two cylindrical magnets, positioned on each edge of the cubes and integrated as rolling pins. Get ready for genius: when two cubes start interacting with each other, magnets rotate naturally, guaranteeing automatic mutual attraction. Once the system is developed, many more movement possibilities will be doable, opening the door to a wide variety of uses. For example, the M-Blocks could help urgently repair bridges and operate in environments hostile or inaccessible to humans. “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,” Romanishin says. So do we!