In November, John Romanishin - now a research scientist in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) - Rus, and postdoc Kyle Gilpin are going to present a paper together on this subject.
Known as M-Blocks, the robots are cubes with no external moving parts.
Nonetheless, they're able to climb over and around one another, leap through the air, roll across the ground, and even move while suspended upside down from metallic surfaces.
Inside each M-Block is a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute; when the flywheel is braked, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube.
On each edge of an M-Block, and on every face, are cleverly arranged permanent magnets that allow any two cubes to attach to each other.
Daniela Rus, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of CSAIL, said that it's one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time.
Rus explained that researchers studying reconfigurable robots have long used an abstraction called the sliding-cube model.
In this model, if two cubes are face to face, one of them can slide up the side of the other and, without changing orientation, slide across its top.
The sliding-cube model simplifies the development of self-assembly algorithms, but the robots that implement them tend to be much more complex devices. Rus' group, for instance, previously developed a modular robot called the Molecule, which consisted of two cubes connected by an angled bar and had 18 separate motors.
On each edge of a cube are two cylindrical magnets, mounted like rolling pins. When two cubes approach each other, the magnets naturally rotate, so that north poles align with south, and vice versa. Any face of any cube can thus attach to any face of any other.
--ANI (Posted on 05-10-2013)