Editorial Feature

Autonomous Self-Assembling Robots

With no external mechanism, each M-Block contains a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revoultiuons per minute. Image Credit: MIT

Researchers from MIT have developed breakthrough robotic technology called M-Blocks; autonomous modular cubes that can change shape based around whichever function it wishes to perform.

With robotic technology performing duties that it is manufactured to perform perfectly well, sometimes there is no flexibility when it comes to various industries or duties.

With this in mind researchers have developed prototype robotic cubes that have no outer moving parts.

Each M-Block contains a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute allowing the miniature blocks to climb over and around one another, jump and spin across the ground.

“It’s one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time,” says Daniela Rus, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL. “We just needed a creative insight and somebody who was passionate enough to keep coming at it — despite being discouraged.”

M-Blocks could be used in contructions solutions to repair bridges and buildings. Image Credit: MIT

On each edge, and on every face, there are permanent magnets allowing the cubes to attach to one another. This also is of use as each block can be suspended upside down from metallic surfaces, allowing more flexibility of different duties the technology could perform.

“There’s a point in time when the cube is essentially flying through the air,” says Kyle Gilpin, Postdoc at MIT. “And you are depending on the magnets to bring it into alignment when it lands. That’s something that’s totally unique to this system.”

In terms of potential duties that can be performed, M-Blocks could be used in construction, to repair buildings, bridges or raising scaffolding.

This technology could also be used in transportation, assembling into furniture or even be used in environments that humans cannot access allowing for testing and analysis.

The main goal would be to miniaturize M-Blocks even further and have a large number of miniature blocks that could perform many different tasks for many different areas. The simplistic concept of the M-Blocks could make this a real possibility.

Commands are currently given via wireless radio transmission but this could change to an algorithm. Image Credit: MIT

Looking at the here and now, researchers are looking at ways robots can be more autonomous as currently, they move via commands from a wireless radio signal in each block. What researchers want to do is have an algorithm in each robot that will allow them to assemble themselves.

They could assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment. They could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganize themselves to provide solutions.

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Small cubes that self-assemble - Run-Time: 4:12mins

Small cubes that self-assemble

Further Reading: MIT Press Release

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.


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