Researchers at MIT have created cube-shaped modular robots that can flip, jump, and assemble themselves into any number of configurations. And remarkably, they have no external parts.

They’re called M-Blocks, and they’re able to move by virtue of an internal flywheel mechanism that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute. And when the flywheel is motionless, it gives the block its angular momentum. On each edge of an M-Block, and on every face, there are magnets that allow the cubes to attach to each other.

Modular robots, or reconfigurable robots, have the inherent advantage of being able to adapt to different tasks or terrain confronting them. They’re able to climb over and around one another, leap through the air, roll across the ground, and move while suspended upside down from metallic surfaces.

When two cubes approach each other, the magnets are forced to rotate so that north poles align with south, and vice-versa. This means that any cube can attach itself to the face of any other.


Currently, each M-Block is controlled externally by an operator (a computer sends instructions via wireless radio). But eventually, the developers hope to provide each block with its own set of algorithms, thus making them autonomous. Future versions could even be equipped with sensors, cameras, and even problem-solving AI, which would make them able to work out how to accomplish specific tasks on their own.

Even more conceptually, miniaturized versions could self-assemble like the liquid steel androids in the movie Terminator II.


Eventually, swarms of M-Blocks could be used for making temporary repairs to bridges or buildings, or as self-assemblling, re-configurable scaffolding. They could also be used to make furniture, heavy equipment, or works of dynamic art.

The M-Blocks were developed by John Romanishin, a research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He and his team will detail their findings at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

[ Source: MIT ]