M-Block Modular Robots Assemble Themselves

M-Blocks are small, self-contained robotic cubes that can configure themselves in a variety of shapes. They can even move as a group if necessary. M-Blocks are the creation of MIT senior John Romanishin.


(M-Blocks Modular Robot video)

Inside each M-Block is 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. On each edge of an M-Block, and on every face, are cleverly arranged permanent magnets that allow any two cubes to attach to each other...

To compensate for its static instability, the researchers’ robot relies on some ingenious engineering. On each edge of a cube are two cylindrical magnets, mounted like rolling pins. When two cubes approach each other, the magnets naturally rotate, so that north poles align with south, and vice versa. Any face of any cube can thus attach to any face of any other.

The cubes’ edges are also beveled, so when two cubes are face to face, there’s a slight gap between their magnets. When one cube begins to flip on top of another, the bevels, and thus the magnets, touch. The connection between the cubes becomes much stronger, anchoring the pivot. On each face of a cube are four more pairs of smaller magnets, arranged symmetrically, which help snap a moving cube into place when it lands on top of another.

As with any modular-robot system, the hope is that the modules can be miniaturized: the ultimate aim of most such research is hordes of swarming microbots that can self-assemble, like the “liquid steel” androids in the movie “Terminator II.” And the simplicity of the cubes’ design makes miniaturization promising.

Although Philip K. Dick fans are rightly thinking about the autofac from his 1955 short story of the same name, or even the nanomachine swarm from Stanislaw Lem's excellent 1954 novel The Invincible, I have an older and perhaps more exact science fictional prediction of this idea.

In his amazing 1920 short story The Metal Monster, Abraham Merritt imagines a robot that is constructed of smaller metal pieces able to move on their own.

Faster the cubes moved; faster the circle revolved; the pyramids raised themselves, stood bolt upright on their square bases; the six rolling spheres touched them, joined the spinning, and with sleight-of-hand suddenness the ring drew together; its units coalesced, cubes and pyramids and globes threading with a curious suggestion of ferment.

With the same startling abruptness there stood erect, where but a moment before they had seethed, a little figure, grotesque; a weirdly humorous, a vaguely terrifying foot-high shape, squared and angled and pointed and ANIMATE—as though a child should build from nursery blocks a fantastic shape which abruptly is filled with throbbing life.

Again the sibilant rustling—and cubes and pyramids and spheres were gone.

"Goodwin!" he whispered. "What—what were they?"

"Metal," I said—it was the only word to which my whirling mind could cling—"metal—"

"Metal!" he echoed. "These things metal? Metal—ALIVE AND THINKING!"
(Read more about Abraham Merritt's living metal cubes)

From Popular Science.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/14/2014)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )

Related News Stories - (" Robotics ")

Robotic Exoskeleton Releases Man From Wheelchair
'This man was standing on two corrugated-soled titanium footplates...'- Fritz Leiber, 1968.

Oh, Just Let Robots Run Airports
I'd like a friendly robot to help me at airports. Especially the bag-carrying part.

Why, Oh Why, Must We Develop Robots That Run Faster Than I Do?
'The legs are long, curled way up to deliver power, like a cheetah's.'- Neal Stephenson, 1992.

Golf Robot Putts Out
'The robot solemnly hit a ball against the wall, picked it up and teed it, hit it again, over and again...' - Frederik Pohl, 1954.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Hackers Can Take Control Of Cars From Anywhere In The World
'The car faltered as the external command came to brake...'

Armed Drone Opens Fire
'Each a television eye and a sonic stunner...'

Robotic Exoskeleton Releases Man From Wheelchair
'This man was standing on two corrugated-soled titanium footplates...'

Oh, Just Let Robots Run Airports
I'd like a friendly robot to help me at airports.

How Smart Should AI's Be Allowed To Get?
'Every AI ever built has an electromagnetic shotgun wired to its forehead'

NASA Misses $5Trillion Funding Boost
'This must be a golden planet—this little asteroid.'

Kuwait Creates Mandatory DNA Database For Citizens
And who has the largest DNA database on its citizens?

Please, Please Let There Be Regenerated Teeth
'Toothbud transplants...'

Google AI 'Deep Dreams' Kubrick's 2001
'I was only trying to do what I thought best....'

The BLITAB: First Tactile Tablet for Blind People
Absolutely amazing development - now blind people can read the web!

Why, Oh Why, Must We Develop Robots That Run Faster Than I Do?
'The legs are long, curled way up to deliver power, like a cheetah's.'

Golf Robot Putts Out
'The robot solemnly hit a ball against the wall, picked it up and teed it, hit it again, over and again...'

Computer Finds Cancer Doctors Miss
The computer will see you now.

Would Robot Taxis Ease Carbon Emissions?
'He emerged and flagged down a robot taxi...'

Brainwaves As Biometric Identification
'The doors of Mr. Lars, Incorporated, shut, tuned as they were to his own cephalic pattern.'

What-If Machine Concocts Creative Premises
'Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.