Self-Assembling Robots

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March 10, 2020
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Self-Assembling Robots

A new generation of robots can now self-assemble, merge, split and repair themselves.

Key Insight

A new generation of robots can now self-assemble, merge, split and repair themselves.

Why It Matters

These self-assembling robots will create greater efficiencies in factories and offer new methods to deliver emergency services.

Examples

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a set of robots called M-Blocks 2.0 that use a barcode system to communicate. They can identify each other and move as needed to perform designated tasks, which at the moment include forming a straight line and moving down a pathway. The University of Pennsylvania developed SMORES-EP robots—tiny, cube-shaped wheeled robots with sensors and cameras. Moving independently and docking with nearby modules, they can form different structures—and even self-assemble to lift objects and drop them off.

What’s Next

Self-assembling robots offer a host of possibilities for medicine, manufacturing, construction and the military. The MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) built a self-assembling robot called Primer that is controlled by magnetic fields. It can put on exoskeleton parts to help it walk, roll, sail or glide better, depending on the environment. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at Peking University (China) discovered a new technique that mimics automatic origami—in initial testing, structures could fold and unfold on their own using inexpensive liquid polymers and LED projector bulbs.

The Impact

Self-assembling robots will be tremendous assets in emergency response situations. Imagine a set of robots forming a temporary staircase to rescue someone from a burning building, or a set of bots that can lock together to form a bridge over flooded roads.

Watchlist

Georgia Institute of Technology, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Peking University, University of Pennsylvania.