Skip

M-Bots: modular cube-shaped robots
October 7, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Researchers at MIT have created M-Bots, small cubes with internal flywheels that use angular momentum to move and magnets to help them stay aligned, as demonstrated in a video. At this point, the robots are not strictly autonomous; rather they are controlled by commands sent by radio.
posted by larrybob (44 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
...at this point, the robots are not strictly autonomous...

at this point
posted by Aizkolari at 11:11 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would welcome our new cube-bot overlords, but frankly I don't know if it will be them or another one of the really awesome but simultaneously scary robotic beasties I've seen in the last few days.
posted by mfu at 11:15 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


You form the legs! I'll form, um, the block on the left!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:15 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a really fun looking toy, but the introduction with the practical applications for this is laughable.
posted by empath at 11:18 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It'd be nice if they could invent something to inevitably destroy the world that ISN'T cute. It's only gonna make it worse if the last thing we see is an incomprehensible number of happy little hopping cubes or some kind of Hello Kitty Reaper-Synthoid or something.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:19 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was just on Doctor Who!
posted by Mister_A at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2013




I also can't help but wonder how both "took one step closer to reality" and "harken" got past the Post copy editors.
posted by 256 at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2013


@256: That's... not even wrong! I'm guessing the National Post is not exactly a bastion of journalistic excellence and integrity?
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2013


Well, Conrad Black has a column...
posted by 256 at 11:31 AM on October 7, 2013


They jump. They weren't design to jump, but it they just naturally starting jumping.

Foolish, foolish humans.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:32 AM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Add this functionality to nanoparticles and we're just one horrifying step away from self-organizing grey goo.
posted by slogger at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2013


I could design such portal levels with them.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:55 AM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here, "not strictly autonomous" = "not at all autonomous."
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:56 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like it's kind of difficult for them to move from one spot on a structure to another, but the little guys try as hard as they can and sometimes it works and other times they go careening off-camera into a researcher's coffee.

These klutzy robot cubes are completely adorable!
posted by aubilenon at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that stuff like this always causes people to make stupid Terminator references. This is the correct stupid reference.
posted by Mercher at 12:02 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Researchers at MIT have created M-Bots, small cubes

Am I the only one hearing Hanson in his head? Just me? Okay then.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:06 PM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


MINECRAFT TERMINATOR CUBES WILL SELF-REASSEMBLE AFTER YOU DIG

INFINITE REPLAYABILITY
posted by ook at 12:09 PM on October 7, 2013


Also re "the ultimate aim of most such research is hordes of swarming microbots"

Well duh, what's the point of research if it doesn't result in hordes of swarms
posted by ook at 12:13 PM on October 7, 2013


Hardest Tetris level ever.
"Whew, a line piece, finally."
"Yup here I come, a nice line piece--FUCK YOU I'M A T-BLOCK, HAHAHA!"
posted by xedrik at 12:24 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great. Now I can't stop picturing swarms of tiny death robots singing Hanson songs at us as they murder us with teeny tiny carving knives.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2013


M-Bot is a nickname someone came up with for my daughter. Weeeeeird.
posted by mkb at 12:28 PM on October 7, 2013


It's only gonna make it worse if the last thing we see is an incomprehensible number of happy little hopping cubes or some kind of Hello Kitty Reaper-Synthoid or something.

Black Mirror season 2 ep 3.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:29 PM on October 7, 2013


...MIT researchers announced a “surprisingly simple” design for modular robots that looks to harken the way to the liquid metal T-1000 from Terminator 2.

Sure! Let's work on bringing to fruition technology from an apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy, designed to enable the wholesale slaughter of the human race! What's the worst that could happen?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2013


It's only gonna make it worse if the last thing we see is an incomprehensible number of happy little hopping cubes or some kind of Hello Kitty Reaper-Synthoid or something.

Or Pinkie Pies.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 12:42 PM on October 7, 2013


this

this is awesome
posted by rebent at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2013


It'd be nice if they could invent something to inevitably destroy the world that ISN'T cute.

You're looking for Petman, BigDog, and WildCat, developed by the completely harmless-sounding Boston Dynamics.
posted by straight at 1:13 PM on October 7, 2013


Am I the only one hearing Hanson in his head? Just me? Okay then.

I started hearing Bloc Party.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read the breathless headlines, understood the grand potential, was thoroughly let down by the actual product.

Are they even self assembling? Maybe. It looks like they're just bouncing into each other and then spinning off again to randomly interact with the blocks in question until the arbitrary shape is reached.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:17 PM on October 7, 2013


On one hand, it's cool that the little blocks can re-arrange themselves; on the other hand... wait, they have to brake a flywheel to move? In explosive, hard-to-control jumps? And each block moves independently, so if you need to change one of the blocks in the center of your design, you have to somehow explosive-jump all the other blocks off first? But wait, if the problem is "how can we arrange a bunch of little components in arbitrary, dynamic arrangements," why not just use a separate robot for that?

Can someone besides the MIT media corps tell me how this is more than really expensive legos?
posted by serif at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2013


I can't help but feel that we are watching a very edited video of highlights. And even some of those highlights aren't very good, with blocks just flying off in random directions.
posted by smackfu at 1:47 PM on October 7, 2013


Am I the only one hearing Hanson in his head? Just me? Okay then.

I started hearing Bloc Party.


C'mon, it's MC Frontalot, shirley.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:48 PM on October 7, 2013


These look like an advanced set of Cubelets, which I got a prototype set to play around with this past summer. They say for kids, but they are really fun to mess around with for any age. Those M-Blocks are kinda freaky in comparison.
posted by linux at 1:55 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like they're just bouncing into each other and then spinning off again to randomly interact with the blocks in question until the arbitrary shape is reached.

Hey if it works for chemistry....
posted by ook at 2:01 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


My cat would adore this.
posted by JujuB at 2:23 PM on October 7, 2013


how this is more than really expensive legos?

I spent a couple summers co-organizing a summer robotics camps for smart secondary students. We used 'really expensive legos' called Mindstorms.

Somewhere in the second summer, I realized that Mindstorms are actually something quite different than most robots, in a really important way: Their physical form is reprogrammable. This is similar to the jump between, say, IBM sorting machines of the 1930's and actual computers. Change the program, change the behaviour.

The dream, of course, is to be able to have modular physical robots that can be rebuilt according to programs, instead of having to be broken down and re-assembled by human helpers. Like if your vacuum cleaner breaks itself down and re-assembles as a blender, for example... (hopefully without getting too much carpet lint in your smoothie.)
posted by kaibutsu at 2:25 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mindstorms also came out of MIT. (At least the Media Lab claims them as their own.)
posted by maryr at 4:25 PM on October 7, 2013


A little more miniaturization, and somebody's going to clean up at the craps table.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:28 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Watching little cubes haphazardly jump on each other to form bigger structures is pretty entertaining, but the problem here is that those bigger structures seem to be mostly useless. If the cubes are arranged in a stack, they can roll- as demonstrated in the video. But... I don't know what a more complex arrangement would be able to do other than fall over and break apart once again.
posted by droro at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2013


SMORES is another self-reconfiguring modular robot that seems a little more controlled and is easier to imagine doing something useful (though the demo videos are admittedly less exciting.)
posted by caaaaaam at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2013


Cute ain't they.

And these won't be made smaller, right...

File this next to teaching robots to run...
posted by djrock3k at 7:27 PM on October 7, 2013


The dream, of course, is to be able to have modular physical robots that can be rebuilt according to programs, instead of having to be broken down and re-assembled by human helpers. Like if your vacuum cleaner breaks itself down and re-assembles as a blender, for example... (hopefully without getting too much carpet lint in your smoothie.)

Why is this is "the dream"? Until I'm living on the mars colony or in a submarine I would prefer a device optimized for blending and a separate device optimized for vacuuming than a single device optimized to both blend, vacuum, and transition between blending and vacuuming.
posted by serif at 8:00 PM on October 7, 2013


I think you're misunderstanding the granularity here. The idea isn't "blender" to "toaster" or whatever, it's more "electrical input", "transformer", "motor", and "actuator". A car, after all, is merely a very complex collection of simple machines -- wheels, levers, gears (and electronics). There are certain efficiencies inherent in optimizing devices for one particular circumstance or use, but on the other hand the modular approach IBM used in designing the PC created room for a lot of innovation and adaptation.

This may well be much more obviously necessary in extreme or remote environments where you're better off carrying a collection of components and building the different complex machines that you need on site rather than carrying one complex machine for each task. Consider Hubble, or the (perhaps moot) conceptual point that the ISS could have an indefinite lifetime with individual component modules being replaced as they age.

Another area this could have great implications is nanorobotics. Consider a self-organizing collection of, say, manipulator components, cargo components, swimmer/propellant components, and the like.

This is essentially really, really basic robotics science research. It may not pay off in the next few years, but the foundational ideas will be useful for decades or even centuries to come.
posted by dhartung at 1:21 AM on October 8, 2013


Why is this is "the dream"? Until I'm living on the mars colony or in a submarine I would prefer a device optimized for blending and a separate device optimized for vacuuming than a single device optimized to both blend, vacuum, and transition between blending and vacuuming.

Mobile smart phones.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:27 AM on October 8, 2013


« Older Famous paintings re-created in old toys and other...   |   Pike County, OH: As Black As We Wish To Be Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post