In 2011, Professor Daniela Rus EE ’92 looked at an MIT senior’s design for modular, self-assembling robots and told him that she didn’t believe it would work. But when John Romanishin ’11 heard his professor tell him “it can’t be done,” he set out to convince her otherwise.
Now, Romanishin works alongside Rus and Kyle Gilpin ’06, MNG ’06, PhD ’12 as a research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). His self-assembling robot design became the foundation for M-Blocks, robotic cubes powered by an internal, whirring flywheel. Tiny magnets embedded on each of the cube’s faces allow the robots to stick to or climb over one another. The cubes follow instructions about where to go via computer commands transmitted via wi-fi.
Romanishin explains that his CSAIL team hopes to create “hundreds of cubes, scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand.” The M-Blocks have already garnered comparisons to the robots in both the Terminator and Transformers films, as one might expect, but the robots’ creators foresee many practical uses, from bridge repair to raising scaffolding to navigating dangerous areas unreachable by humans.