Oct 042013
 

20131002171409-0

Small cubes with no exterior moving parts can propel themselves forward, jump on top of each other, and snap together to form arbitrary shapes.

In 2011, when an MIT senior named John Romanishin proposed a new design for modular robots to his robotics professor, Daniela Rus, she said, “That can’t be done.”

Two years later, Rus showed her colleague Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University, a video of prototype robots, based on Romanishin’s design, in action. “That can’t be done,” Lipson said.

In November, Romanishin — now a research scientist in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) — Rus, and postdoc Kyle Gilpin will establish once and for all that it can be done, when they present a paper describing their new robots at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

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.

“It’s one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time,” says 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.”

Embodied abstraction

As Rus explains, 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. “We were quite proud of it at the time,” Rus says.

According to Gilpin, existing modular-robot systems are also “statically stable,” meaning that “you can pause the motion at any point, and they’ll stay where they are.” What enabled the MIT researchers to drastically simplify their robots’ design was giving up on the principle of static stability.

“There’s a point in time when the cube is essentially flying through the air,” Gilpin says. “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.”

That’s also what made Rus skeptical about Romanishin’s initial proposal. “I asked him build a prototype,” Rus says. “Then I said, ‘OK, maybe I was wrong.’”

Sticking the landing

To compensate for its static instability, the researchers’ robot relies on some ingenious engineering. 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.

The cubes’ edges are also beveled, so when two cubes are face to face, there’s a slight gap between their magnets. When one cube begins to flip on top of another, the bevels, and thus the magnets, touch. The connection between the cubes becomes much stronger, anchoring the pivot. On each face of a cube are four more pairs of smaller magnets, arranged symmetrically, which help snap a moving cube into place when it lands on top of another.

As with any modular-robot system, the hope is that the modules can be miniaturized: the ultimate aim of most such research is hordes of swarming microbots that can self-assemble, like the “liquid steel” androids in the movie “Terminator II.” And the simplicity of the cubes’ design makes miniaturization promising.

But the researchers believe that a more refined version of their system could prove useful even at something like its current scale. Armies of mobile cubes could temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects. They could assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed. And they could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganize themselves to provide solutions.

Strength in diversity

The researchers also imagine that among the mobile cubes could be special-purpose cubes, containing cameras, or lights, or battery packs, or other equipment, which the mobile cubes could transport. “In the vast majority of other modular systems, an individual module cannot move on its own,” Gilpin says. “If you drop one of these along the way, or something goes wrong, it can rejoin the group, no problem.”

“It’s one of those things that you kick yourself for not thinking of,” Cornell’s Lipson says. “It’s a low-tech solution to a problem that people have been trying to solve with extraordinarily high-tech approaches.”

Read more . . .

 

The Latest on: Self-assembling robots
  • Swarmanoids: Modular Robots that Assemble to Form Artificial Nervous Systems
    on October 13, 2017 at 12:20 am

    As the researchers explain in an interview on IEEE Spectrum, as long as there are extra units in supply, the MNS robot would not fail due to malfunction, as its defective parts can be continually replaced. Modular, self-assembling robots such as these MNS ... […]

  • Tiny, self-assembling bots will create more work for humans
    on September 28, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    It sounds like the ultimate in job-destroying automation: these robots can turn into walkers, swimmers, or gliders, and they are self-assembling. No human hands required for these monsters to go from the road to the air! Only a few small hurdles remain ... […]

  • Self-Assembling Robots Assembling Human Selves: No Dissembly Required
    on August 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Suddenly, I could envision self-assembling colonists on distant planets getting ... Keenan describes how the military sees the use of autonomous robots: John Hawkins is a freelance writer from Boston. While he focuses mostly on fiction and poetry at ... […]

  • Self-Assembling Robot Utilizes Origami Techniques to Spring to Life
    on August 8, 2014 at 4:13 am

    A self-assembling robot that begins as a flat sheet of material was recently engineered using origami techniques by researchers at Harvard and MIT. Made from cheap hobby shop materials, the prototype could be the start of what may be a long-envisioned ... […]

  • Real Transformers? Self-assembling paper robots invented
    on August 7, 2014 at 9:22 am

    In what may be the birth of cheap, easy-to-make robots, researchers have created complex machines that transform themselves from little more than a sheet of paper and plastic into walking automatons. Borrowing from the ancient Japanese art of origami ... […]

  • Scientists Make Cheap, Fast Self-Assembling Robots
    on August 6, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    In what may be the birth of cheap, easy-to-make robots, researchers have created complex machines that transform themselves from little more than a sheet of paper and plastic into walking automatons. Borrowing from the ancient Japanese art of origami ... […]

  • Real Transformers: MIT's Self-Assembling Robot Cubes Change Shape Automatically (VIDEO)
    on October 7, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Self-assembling robots are science fiction no longer. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are building little bots that assemble themselves into cube-shaped modular structures. The cubes can jump, spin, climb, and they'll eventually ... […]

  • 'Terminator' self-assembling cube robots revealed by MIT
    on October 4, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Cube-shaped robots that can flip, jump and assemble themselves into different shapes have been unveiled by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The small robots, known as M-Blocks, have no external parts but can move using an ... […]

  • MIT and Harvard’s 3D-Printed Inchworm Robot Can Assemble Itself
    on May 8, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    The first sure sign of a robot uprising will be when robots gain self-awareness and begin acting autonomously – and if this self-assembling robot is any indication, we’re well on our way to the robopocalypse. Researchers at Harvard and MIT teamed up ... […]

via Google News and Bing News

Other Interesting Posts

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: