A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has unveiled a new self-assembling robot that has already drawn humorous comparisons to Optimus Prime and the T-1000 robot from Terminator 2. While the small, cube-shaped robots (called M-blocks) are not equipped with lasers or missiles, they are a fascinating development in robotics and could have a wide variety of real-world applications.
The M-block cubes are made from 2-inch diameter blocks of aluminum which are then hollowed out and fitted with a flywheel. The 20,000 rpm flywheel allows the cubes to move independently, and their ability to brake to 0 rpms in a matter of milliseconds by use of a braking mechanism allows the cubes to “jump” by harassing that momentum. Each cube’s edges are fitted with magnets that allow the cubes to join together in any number of patterns, and special indents allow the cubes to stay connected on one side while changing shape.
The modular design of the cubes and their mobility are the keys to their potential real-world applications. Having a set of robot parts that could quickly self-assemble into different modular objects could be extremely beneficial in a number of settings. Some potential uses mentioned so far include bridge building in the event of an emergency, and using the cube’s mobility to act as a probe in tight spaces or impassable terrain.