M-Blocks: little self-building robots

Mblocks2Invented by John Romanishin of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, M-Blocks are small robots that assemble themselves into a single, larger robot. By jumping and twisting, the robots are able to transport themselves, and they can assemble using magnets. Although this in itself may not seem much, these robots are a step in the direction of real Transformers.

What is unique about these robots is that they can jump. Every M-Block has been equipped with a flywheel that is capable of 20,000 revolutions per minute. The momentum created by this wheel is enough to let the M-block hop around in search of other blocks to connect itself to.


Although this may not seem very special in itself, it actually is a big deal. The technology opens up a broad range of application scenarios. Whilst other robots are often created for a single purpose, the M-blocks are capable of many different things, depending on how they have been pieced together.

Imagine unpacking a box of M-Blocks and instructing them to form a house. Or creating a sofa from M-Blocks and then have them reassemble into three chairs. And of course, you can create your own, fully functional Transformer!

This varied range of capabilities is precisely what Romanishin and his MIT team intended their M-Blocks for. They want to develop the robots further so that you can instruct them to assume a particular shape. The robots will take their cue and decide for themselves how to take on the desired shape. For this purpose, they need to identify each other and negotiate how they will go about assuming a particular shape.

The main objective, however, is to reduce the size of the robots. The blocks should eventually become so small that they can take on any form you want. Kind of like 3D printing, but without a printer!