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Thursday, February 24, 2022

Self Configuring Robotic Cubes

Quite interesting application for space, and perhaps other complex environments for sensors?

 Robotic cubes: Self-reconfiguring ElectroVoxels use embedded electromagnets to test applications for space exploration

by Rachel Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If faced with the choice of sending a swarm of full-sized, distinct robots to space, or a large crew of smaller robotic modules, you might want to enlist the latter. Modular robots, like those depicted in films such as "Big Hero 6," hold a special type of promise for their self-assembling and reconfiguring abilities. But for all of the ambitious desire for fast, reliable deployment in domains extending to space exploration, search and rescue, and shape-shifting, modular robots built to date are still a little clunky. They're typically built from a menagerie of large, expensive motors to facilitate movement, calling for a much-needed focus on more scalable architectures—both up in quantity and down in size.

Scientists from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) called on electromagnetism—electromagnetic fields generated by the movement of electric current—to avoid the usual stuffing of bulky and expensive actuators into individual blocks. Instead, they embedded small, easily manufactured, inexpensive electromagnets into the edges of the cubes that repel and attract, allowing the robots to spin and move around each other and rapidly change shape.

The "ElectroVoxels" have a side length of about 60 millimeters, and the magnets consist of ferrite core (they look like little black tubes) wrapped with copper wire, totaling a whopping cost of just 60 cents. Inside each cube are tiny printed circuit boards and electronics that send current through the right electromagnet in the right direction  .... ' 

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