Scientists create cube robots that can shapeshift in space


Scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory () and the University of Calgary have developed a modular system that can morph into completely different shapes. ElectroVoxels haven’t any motors or transferring components. Instead, they use electromagnets to shift round one another.

Each fringe of an ElectroVoxel cube is an electromagnetic ferrite core wrapped with copper wire. The size of every ElectroVoxel facet is round 60 millimeters. The whole price is simply 60 cents.

When the polarity of a magnet is modified, the sides both appeal to or repel one another. That causes the cubes to shift into a distinct orientation. Printed circuit boards and electronics inside every cube management the course of every electromagnet’s present.

The robots have two primary kinds of motion. They can pivot across the fringe of one other cube, or traverse from one ElectroVoxel to the following. A software planner can be used to program reconfigurations. A person can spotlight particular magnets, management the pace of cube’s actions and guarantee they will not collide with one another.

The researchers say potential to regulate as much as 1,000 ElectroVoxels with the software. Users can inform the blocks to shift into completely different shapes, equivalent to turning from a chair right into a sofa. They can determine which cube ought to transfer in which course, and the software will decide the electromagnetic assignments wanted to hold out the duty.

The scientists examined ElectroVoxels in microgravity on a parabolic flight. They discovered the robots can function in low-gravity environments. As such, the researchers say ElectroVoxels might be used to change and create constructions in outer .


They counsel the robots may change the inertia properties of a spacecraft, which could mitigate the necessity for additional gasoline for reconfiguration. That, the scientists say, cures many challenges linked with launch mass and quantity. They hope the system will ultimately allow a spread of space-related use circumstances, equivalent to augmenting and changing constructions over a collection of launches, and constructing momentary constructions to help astronauts and assist with spacecraft inspections.

A future model of ElectroVoxels may enable the creation of self-sorting storage containers. However, to permit the robots to extra simply reconfigure in Earth’s gravity, the researchers say extra detailed modeling and optimization could be required.

“While the potential benefits in space are particularly great, the paradox is that the favorable dynamics provided by microgravity mean some of those problems are actually also easier to solve — in space, even tiny forces can make big things move,” mentioned Martin Nisser, a PhD pupil at CSAIL and lead creator on a paper on ElectroVoxels. “By applying this technology to solve real near-term problems in space, we can hopefully incubate the technology for future use on Earth too.”

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