Block-like robots could assemble into emergency staircases

Each M-block contains a flywheel that rotates at 20,000 rpm, and permanent magnets on each edge and surface. In this way, they can jump, crawl and spin with spin pulses and then magnetically attach to other M-blocks. Despite their apparent simplicity, they can band together into structures and complete tasks.

“Other robot systems have much more complicated motion mechanisms that require many steps, but our system is more scalable and less expensive,” said lead author John Romanishin. “What’s special about our approach is that it’s cost-effective, robust and potentially scalable to one million modules.”

As before, each module can move in up to 24 different directions. Without protruding limbs, collisions and obstacles can be avoided. What’s new is that they can now communicate with each other via barcodes, which is more reliable than infrared light or radio waves, especially when there are many blocks in the same place.

In an experiment, the researchers wanted to find out if the robots could transform themselves from a random structure into a straight line. To do this, they first had to discover how they were connected, and then decide how to move to get on the line. In the end, almost all (90 percent) were able to do so.

Currently, the 16 blocks can only perform simple tasks, such as: B. Follow lights, make a line or follow arrows. The next step is to increase the number of blocks in order to obtain larger swarms that can assemble into more complex structures with improved capabilities. We’ve seen this movie before, but the team believes the robots are better at saving lives than ending them.