They said it couldn’t be done. But it has! MIT researchers recently managed to create self-assembling modular robots. The researchers even released a video demonstrating their success.
According to MIT, back in 2011, MIT senior John Romanishin was advised by his robotics professor Daniela Rus that his concept for self-assembling robots could not be pulled off. Two years later, Romanishin (now a research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Rus, and post-doc candidate Kyle Gilpin are demonstrating the concept at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.
But, don’t expect any Michael Bay and Hasbro stunts just yet. The self-assemblage is very basic, but still quite astonishing to behold.
How exactly is it done? Well, the robots, called M-blocks, each contain what is called a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. By comparison, a jet engine piston turns at 2,000-3,000 revolutions per minute, while a nuclear centrifuge reaches speeds of 90,000 rpm or faster. When the flywheel breaks, its angular momentum is transferred to the cube. Each cube’s edge is equipped with a specialized magnet. All of this works to create the self-assembling modularity of the M-blocks, allowing them to climb, leap, fly through the air and align in a variety of arrangements.
“It’s one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time,” Rus said. “We just needed a creative insight and somebody who was passionate enough to keep coming at it — despite being discouraged.”
Ultimately, the researchers want to create swarms of self-assembling robots for a variety of applications, such as building temporary bridges or creating scaffolding systems for construction projects. One could even imagine applications extending to spontaneous furniture, such as desks, night stands and tables. Need a foot rest? Call out the self-assembling robots. Need a robotic chest for all your goodies? Well, maybe it won’t be a problem in the future with these robots.