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Block robots can be assembled on emergency staircases



Each M-block contains a flywheel inside which rotates at 20,000 rpm along with permanent magnets on each edge and face. This allows them to jump, crawl and rotate together using an angular impulse, then clip onto other M-Block magnetically. As such, despite their seeming simplicity, they can come together to form structures and perform tasks.

"Other robotic systems have much more complex movement mechanisms that require many steps, but our system is more scalable and cost effective," said lead author John Romanishin. "What is unique about our approach is that it is inexpensive, robust and potentially easier to scale to one million modules."

As before, each module can move in 24 different directions and without convex limbs it is easy for them to avoid collisions and clear obstacles. What's new is that they can now communicate with each other through barcodes, which is more reliable than infrared light or radio waves, especially with many blocks all in one place.

In one experiment, researchers wanted to test whether robots could be transformed in a straight line by any structure. To do this, they first had to determine how they were connected, then decide how to move to get in line. After all, almost all (90 percent) were able to do so.

So far, 1

6 blocks can only do simple things by following lights, forming a line or following arrows. The next step is to increase the number of blocks by making larger swarms that can be assembled into more complex structures with improved capabilities. We've seen this movie before, but the team thinks the robots will be better suited to rescuing rather than ending life.


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