'Terminator'-style cube robots swarm and self-assemble

Robotics researchers at MIT show off the capabilities of small cube-shaped robots with no external moving parts.

M-block robot
The M-block with its innards and flywheel exposed. MIT

If you look down and see a series of colorful cubes crawling toward you, don't panic. It's not Tetris come to real life, but rather the creation of robotics researchers at MIT. The M-Blocks robots are cube-shaped modular bots with no external moving parts. Nonetheless, they can move, crawl over each other, and self-assemble.

The secret to the robots' movements lies under the skin. Each little cube hides a small flywheel that can hit speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. Magnets embedded in strategic locations help the M-Blocks stick together.

The current M-Blocks are about the size of wood alphabet blocks, but one goal is to miniaturize the technology. MIT likens the potential resulting microrobots to the liquid-metal androids from the "Terminator" movies. These could end up being the ultimate Transformers, with massive groups of robots altering their shape to suit changing needs.

Watching the radio-controlled M-Blocks move is fascinating. They spin, jump, click together, and fly off each other. The researchers hope to eventually turn the blocks into autonomous robots that can make their own decisions about how they turn into different shapes. Let's just hope they don't develop sentience and start making up their own shapes geared for overthrowing the human race.

 

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