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Self-Assembling Robots: Is This the Future?

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To get a sense of what the future might look like, watch the video above (h/t Kurzweil). It may look like a kid’s toy, but it’s something far more impressive: a self-assembling, autonomous robot with pieces that can move themselves (and jump) without any external moving parts. Obviously, at this point it can’t do much besides change its shape, but if the basic concept works, we could soon have robots comprised of hundreds or thousands of fully autonomous pieces which can quickly deconstruct and reconstitute themselves for whatever task is at hand. As one of the engineers on the project notes:

A robot designed for a single task has a fixed architecture and that robot will perform the single task well, but it will perform poorly on a different task in a different environment. If we do not know ahead of time what the robot will have to do and when it will have to do it, it is better to consider making modular robots that can attain whatever shape is needed for the manipulation, navigation or sensing needs of the task.

This robot, if it works, could potentially be a solution to that problem. Much like how 3D printers allow people to make any number of different items at home using one machine, in the future, every family could have collection of these blocks at home, forming whatever machines they need at the time. Or, from a less charitable perspective, we could be creating the Terminator.

Here at Via Meadia we talk a lot about how advances in robotics technology and artificial intelligence will fundamentally change how we live and work. This is what that innovation looks like.

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  • Joe Eagar

    I believe in the future of robotics as much as anyone (all the pieces are there, research-wise, for some seriously cool stuff).

    That being said, this doesn’t strike me as a serious research project. It may benefit future research. . .or it may not. Robotics research (especially in the West) tends to suffer from a lack of focus (manufacturing robotics being an exception).

    We should start seeing results soon, though. Like I said, all the pieces are there, it’s just that the scholars aren’t disciplined enough to put them together in something with a practical application.

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