Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the University of Calgary have developed a new kind of shapeshifting robotic cube using 3D printing technology.
ElectroVoxels, as they’re called, are self-configuring robot blocks that can assemble themselves into all manner of shapes. These modular robots don’t use any clunky and expensive motors whatsoever, leveraging embedded electromagnets as an actuation mechanism instead. This allows them to repel, attract, and spin around each other with ease and scalability, like a hive mind of intelligent Lego bricks.
The MIT team has already taken their ElectroVoxels for a spin on a parabolic flight, testing their functionality in microgravity conditions. They believe the work could have major implications for applications in outer space, such as dynamically-morphing spacecraft or storage containers that change their size based on the payload.
Martin Nisser, lead author of the study, said, “When building a large, complex structure, you don’t want to be constrained by the availability and expertise of people assembling it, the size of your transportation vehicle, or the adverse environmental conditions of the assembly site. While these axioms hold true on earth, they compound severely for building things in space. If you could have structures that assemble themselves from simple, homogeneous modules, you could eliminate a lot of these problems.”