Researchers from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and the University of Calgary in Canada have developed a system of modular robots that can be organized in different ways.
Robotic cubes use electromagnets to move on top of each other and move around. Photo: MIT CSAIL
These robotic cubes called Eletrovoxels have no motors or moving parts. Instead, they use electromagnets to cross each other.
According to the developers, each edge of the ElectroVoxel cube is an electromagnetic ferrite core wrapped in copper wire. Each side is about 60mm long and the total cost is only 60 cents.
When the polarity of a magnet changes, the edges attract or repel each other. This causes the cubes to move in a different direction. The circuit boards and electronics inside each cube control the direction of current from each electromagnet.
With two basic types of motion, ElectroVoxels can spin around the edge of another cube or go from robot to robot. According to Engadget, the software is responsible for regulating reconfigurations, highlighting specific magnets, controlling the speed of the cube’s movements and making sure they don’t collide with each other.
According to the researchers, it is possible to control up to a thousand ElectroVoxels using the program. Users can tell blocks of different shapes, as well as decide which cube should move in which direction, and the program will determine the electromagnetic assignments needed to get the job done.
Scientists tested modular robots in microgravity
Scientists tested ElectroVoxels in microgravity during parabolic flight and found that the robots could operate in low-gravity environments. Therefore, according to the team, they can be used to modify and create structures in space.
Its creators suggest that the robots could alter the spacecraft’s inertial properties, which could mitigate the need for additional fuel for reconfiguration. This, according to the scientists, solves many challenges related to launch mass and size.
They hope the system will eventually enable a number of space-related use cases, such as building temporary structures to assist astronauts and also supporting spacecraft inspections.
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