Cute yet creepy? Somersaulting MIT cube robots can self-assemble

Mit Robots Blocks Idea

These brightly colored blocks may look like child’s toys, but watch out: These adorable cubes are actually spinning robots that can connect to build modular machines. There’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.

“It's simple on the outside, but the insides are very unique,” MIT robotics professor Daniela Rus said in an interview.

Unlike a normal robot that can’t change its form, these modifiable robots can be made into any shape ideal for a given task’s needs, reconfiguring at a moment’s notice, Rus said.

It’s almost like a cuddlier, more basic version of the T-1000 — the shape-shifting, liquid-metal nemesis in "Terminator 2."

“I just had the idea for a really long time,” said MIT roboticist John Romanishin, who proposed the idea while a senior at the university. “The idea has been in a lot of people's minds from movies like 'Terminator' and other popular culture references.”

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 cube’s frame, causing it to flip ( via ).

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