October 8, 2013 - These brightly colored blocks may look like childâ€™s toys, but watch out: These adorable cubes
are actually spinning robots that can connect to build modular machines. Thereâ€™s no assembly required: The blocks, built at MIT, will do it themselves.
The acrobatic boxes, called M-blocks, have no external parts. And yet they can spin, somersault and snap together to create all kinds of shapes, depending on the job at hand.
â€śIt's simple on the outside, but the insides are very unique,â€ť MIT robotics professor Daniela Rus said in an interview.
Unlike a normal robot that canâ€™t change its form, these modifiable robots can be made into any shape ideal for a given taskâ€™s needs, reconfiguring at a momentâ€™s notice, Rus said.
Itâ€™s almost like a cuddlier, more basic version of the T-1000 â€” the shape-shifting, liquid-metal nemesis in "Terminator 2."
â€śI just had the idea for a really long time,â€ť said MIT roboticist John Romanishin, who proposed the idea while a senior at the university. â€śThe idea has been in a lot of people's minds from movies like 'Terminator' and other popular culture references.â€ť
The blocks move thanks to a flywheel inside their bodies that can spin at a blistering 20,000 revolutions per minute and then can brake straight down to zero in a blinding 10 milliseconds, said MIT roboticist Kyle Gilpin. When the flywheel suddenly stops, all the energy from that angular momentum transfers into the cubeâ€™s frame, causing it to flip.