In the CACM: From IEEE Spectrum.
A modular robotic chain can be what you want it to. In particular interesting to see non humaoid robotic forms for tasks. An alternate form of biomimicry.
" ... Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed ChainFORM, an evolution of last year's LineFORM multifunctional snake robot that introduces modularity to the system.
Each ChainFORM module includes touch detection on multiple surfaces, angular detection, and motor actuation via a single servo motor.
The MIT researchers also devised a system that can automatically determine how many modules there are, and how the modules are connected to each other, while preserving the capability for real-time input and output. ... "