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New paper details robot previously deemed impossible

An MIT researcher has managed to create a modular robot with no external moving parts that can still move thanks to an internal flywheel.


In 2011, MIT senior John Romanishin proposed an idea for a new type of robot: The robot would shaped like a cube, with no external moving parts, but could nevertheless move, jump, roll, swing and assemble itself into different shapes with other similar robots. His professor, Daniela Rus, told him it couldn’t be done. Rus’ colleague told her it couldn’t be done. Two years later, Rus is a believer and has teamed up with Romanishin and postdoc Kyle Gilpin. Romashin, who has become a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), is preparing to present a paper detailing the new robots. The paper will be presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in November.

The secret that empowers the robots, known as M-blocks, is an internal flywheel that can rotate up to 20,000 rpm. A flywheel is a mechanical device that can store rotational energy on a spinning wheel. When the flywheel is braked, its angular momentum is transferred to the cube, allowing for it to roll forward. In addition, permanent magnets on the edges of the cube allow for the robots to attach to each other.


John Romanishin

“It’s one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time,” says Rus, “We just needed a creative insight and somebody who was passionate enough to keep coming at it—despite being discouraged.” The M-cube is an improvement on previous solutions for modular robots, one being the “sliding-cube” model, which professor Rus was previously involved in. Sliding cube models allow for cubes to, quite simply, slide across each other, and uses much more complex machinery, sometimes with up to 18 motors, to perform the same task that the M-cube can do with just a flywheel.

Via Phys.org

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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