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The Swarmbots Have Arrived

What's the Latest Development?

MIT scientist John Romanishin has done what some said couldn't be done: He has created a mini-cube robot that has no external moving parts yet can move, climb, leap, and -- most importantly -- work together with its fellows to create larger shapes. The motion comes from an internal flywheel that can go as fast as 20,000 revolutions per minute and delivers angular momentum when stopped. Magnets on the cube's edge and faces allow it to connect to other cubes. Romanishin and his colleagues will discuss the invention at next month's IEEE/RSJ conference on intelligent robots and systems.

What's the Big Idea?

In a video, MIT robotics professor Daniela Rus says that unlike fixed-architecture robots -- which are usually meant to perform a single task -- the cubes can be assembled and reassembled into different shapes that can perform a variety of tasks. Currently they receive commands from a computer via a radio, but eventually the team plans to build algorithms into the cubes themselves so that, according to post-doc Kyle Gilpin, a swarm of cubes can figure out on their own the best way to complete a task given to them. This could allow such swarms to temporarily repair large structures during an emergency, or enter dangerous environments to identify problems and help provide solutions.

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