M-Blocks 2.0 revealed: Now these cube robots can collaborate

Almost exactly six years ago, we reported on the first iteration of the self-assembling cube robots called M-Blocks. Since then, they've become exponentially more radical. Here in October of 2019, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) revealed their newest edition of the robotic cubes they call M-Blocks 2.0. The newest edition has many upgrades, the most amazing of which is a communication system with which the blocks can communicate, and thereby collaborate.

The first iteration was radical, but limited by the amount of communication possible between each individual box. Now the newest version of this robot box system has a full-fledged communication system with which they're able to talk and organize. MIT presented a system with which a team of 16 M-Blocks can create miniature architecture.

"M stands for motion, magnet, and magic," said Daniela Rus, CSAIL Director and MIT Professor. CSAIL PhD student John Romanishin is lead author on a paper about M-Blocks 2.0, along with undergraduate student John Mamish of the University of Michigan and Rus.

The blocks have a simple set of movements. Four potential moves for each of six faces, creating 24 different movement directions. Movements are made with a flywheel inside the block which creates momentum when the 20,000-RPM mechanism is braked.

"The unique thing about our approach is that it's inexpensive, robust, and potentially easier to scale to a million modules," said Romanishin. "M-Blocks can move in a general way. Other robotic systems have much more complicated movement mechanisms that require many steps, but our system is more scalable."

This system will be presented at IEEE's International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Macau in November of 2019. Looking forward to seeing more from this team of creators soon!

For more, take a peek at earlier presentations of this same set of blocks. Another recent paper on these blocks was authored by Anıl Ozdemir, John W. Romanishin, Roderich Groß, and Daniela Rus, earlier this year on these same cubical robots. This paper was called "Decentralized gathering of stochastic, oblivious agents on a grid: A case study with 3D M-Blocks."

You may also want to take a peek at the paper "Central Pattern Generators Control of Momentum Driven Compliant Structures". This was authored by Stephane Bonardi, John Romanishin, Daniela Rus, and Takashi Kubota in the 2019 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) earlier this year with DOI: 10.1109/ICRA.2019.8793806 for further reference!

ALSO: Here's the Big Hero 6 movie scene to which I referred above. Here you'll see one of the main characters, Hiro Hamada, unveil his invention Microbots. They're super tiny – far smaller than the transforming bots MIT has at the moment, but they're very, very similar in concept to what MIT's made real.