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MIT Researchers Unveil Self-Assembling Robot Swarm

Soulskill posted 1 year,17 days | from the resistance-is-futile dept.

Robotics 55

MIT research scientist John Romanishin, along with professor Daniela Rus and postdoc Kyle Gilpin, have demonstrated a swarm of modular robots with the ability to self-assemble into larger shapes. The individual robots are small and cubical, but they contain a flywheel capable of spinning at 20,000 rpm. By spinning up the flywheel and then braking abruptly, the robots use angular momentum to jump into different positions. Magnets on the edges of the cube guide them into alignment. The researchers hope to be able to shrink the cubes even further, but they think a "refined version of their system could prove useful even at something like its current scale. Armies of mobile cubes could temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects. They could assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed. And they could swarm into environments hostile or inaccessible to humans, diagnose problems, and reorganize themselves to provide solutions." The cubes could also be packed with sensors, batteries, or other technologies.

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What could possibly go wrong? (3, Funny)

SYSS Mouse (694626) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036367)

Grey Goo?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036417)

I'm dreaming of a Grey Goo Xmas ...

and my /. password

Re: What could possibly go wrong? (2)

iamhassi (659463) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037379)

I saw this and immediately thought T-1000 [wikipedia.org] , a android that could form the shape of any object.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036425)

self assembling != self replicating

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (2)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036491)

Yeah. That'll be a few versions down the road.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036567)

Let's get any machine that can build a functional copy of itself, given the right materials before worrying about some specific machine doing it AND finding the materials itself.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036741)

We already have a grey goo.

Life.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (2)

i kan reed (749298) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037771)

Among the people who like to talk about it, the term for that is "green goo"

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038111)

Does that make humans 'pink goo?' They reproduce, spread rapidly and consume all available resources destroying everything in their path.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038129)

I should probably say 'pinkish-brown goo,' in the spirit of political correctness.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | 1 year,14 days | (#45057957)

Beige Goo?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

MellowBob (2933537) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036581)

Duh,

But the phrase sounded so goo in my head.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036615)

This level is beyond anything that you or I could ever imagine.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (5, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036429)

Of course, grey goo is the natural place to go with highly programmed, organization dependent, physically large devices that depend on highly specific materials for their construction. It's not like any one of those attributes would render grey goo essentially harmless.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036453)

replicators

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036753)

blocks that self assemble == replicators
mod parent up!

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Macrat (638047) | 1 year,16 days | (#45042127)

blocks that self assemble == replicators

Yet.....

Re: What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036489)

I've watched enough sci-fi to know this will end badly. Their collective mind will turn against us and once they self replicate mankind is f**ked

Re: What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036885)

Not necessarily. As the series Lexx told us, the only way to really get us off of the planet is to build the robots, that can build the bigger robots, that can build the really big robots, that can build the really tiny robots that can build the things that we'll need to get us off of the planet.

Looks like we're really a type 13 planet afterall.

Re: What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Guest316 (3014867) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036923)

*coughMantridcough*

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (4, Funny)

DokRokHard (1492295) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036629)

EVEN WORSE (3, Funny)

decipher_saint (72686) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036749)

We're talking about a Grey Lego scenario.

No feet shall be spared in the coming apocalypse

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

JeanCroix (99825) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037239)

No worries, they contain strong permanent magnets and a colorful like toys. Thus, they'll be banned for the sake of the children within a couple months.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

TheLink (130905) | 1 year,16 days | (#45039199)

We've already got grey goo around us - fungi, bacteria etc.

We're nowhere close to building something on a nanoscale that can outcompete fungi or bacteria in digesting our world. We can't build anything like a housefly either (flies reasonably fast for much longer than many tiny toy helis, navigates, handles some suboptimal weather conditions, feeds itself, avoids enemies, finds mates and creates copies).

One might say someone will come up with a grey goo that eats steel (which most fungi and bacteria can't). But what would the thermodynamics and chemical reactions be? To convert the steel to copies of itself it would need additional nutrients (an all steel nanobot seems unlikely) and it would either need suitable catalysts (trace nutrients) or a significant power source. To do it quickly would require even more power.

So I'm not worried about grey goo. I'd be more worried about someone creating a deadly germ (virus, etc).

Oblig (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036395)

I for one welcome our cubic-shaped robotic overlords...

just the first step (1, Funny)

mowaterfowl (2859817) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036465)

...in creating our own version of the Stargate Replicators

Prey... (1)

Morpeth (577066) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036553)

Too bad Michael Crichton isn't still around, he'd love it - reminds me of his book "Prey" (I know, the subject's been covered by many other authors, but I like they way he wrote about tech)

Not surprisingly, things didn't end well for many people in that novel... not well at all.

Gold Goo (1, Interesting)

deathcloset (626704) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036587)

What could possibly go right?

Gold Goo?

I mean why do we assume that something we create, if run out of our control, will be destructive? I imagine it is because the machines we have built in the past have always needed a human to tell them what to do - they have had little or no 'brains'. These dumb machines and creations if left to their own devices will run off the track, go haywire or explode. Humans have always been needed to channel the energies of these creations.

But now we have self-driving cars.

I think our robots will escape our control one day just as not so long ago we escaped the kings'. So I suspect that a future of self-creating machines will be more evolutionary than revolutionary and that there will be no, or exceedingly few, beheadings.

Re:Gold Goo (1)

The-Ixian (168184) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036755)

I mean why do we assume that something we create, if run out of our control, will be destructive?

Because it is running out of our control...

Re:Gold Goo (1)

doti (966971) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036861)

There's a difference between "out of our control" and "out of any control".

Re:Gold Goo (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036983)

There is a difference between out of any control, and destructive. You could build the most advanced, indestructible tank ever, but drop a brick on the accelerator and get it stuck driving in a circle. It won't be destructive as long as stuff stays out of the circle, even if nothing could be done to stop it from driving in that circle.

Re:Gold Goo (1)

doti (966971) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037585)

"stuck driving in a circle" is very far from being out of control.

Re:Gold Goo (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037849)

"stuck driving in a circle" is very far from being out of control.

I think those watching the US Congress in action recently would disagree...

Re:Gold Goo (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45037449)

because Humans are a cancer on the earth and any smart robot would logically conclude that we need to be erradicated. Heck, most humans conclude that we need to be erradicated. Nothing to worry about though, most humans already do everything in their power to assure our destruction. Keep driving those SUVs and dumping chemicals into our water supplies!

Re:Gold Goo (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,16 days | (#45038667)

Johnny Redneck is not "most humans"

VOLTRON Lives!!! (1)

midifarm (666278) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036635)

Form Blazing Sword!!!

Re:VOLTRON Lives!!! (1)

Sez Zero (586611) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036867)

Voltron? I think you mean The Iron Giant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Iron_Giant)

Re:VOLTRON Lives!!! (2)

rjejr (921275) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037035)

No, he meant Voltron. Nobody cares abut the Iron Giant.

Project has come a ways since I last saw it. (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036645)

I had an opportunity to play with a few of these about a year back. John is a weird old friend. :) Anyway, they were still fleshing out all of the AI bits at that time, but the mechanics seem to be relatively the same. It's a pretty cool project. I know they have an eye towards miniaturization in the future in order to make more complex structures, so you can all look forward to that.

And they JUMP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45036723)

The words "swarm" "robot" and "self-asssemble" in a single sentence holds no promise of comfort.

wholeness (2)

doti (966971) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036875)

Too bad they didn't show any motion of the object as a whole, only of individual cubes.

other swarm self-ASM bots (4, Informative)

aiadot (3055455) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036935)

Just a few very well known samples. That is not even the tip of the iceberg. http://www.geek.com/science/robot-swarms-self-assemble-into-flying-units-of-any-shape-or-size-1562961/ [geek.com]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkvpEfAPXn4 [youtube.com]
http://naturalrobotics.group.shef.ac.uk/research.html [shef.ac.uk]

(Pay-walled articles) http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4108264&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fxpls%2Fabs_all.jsp%3Farnumber%3D4108264 [ieee.org]
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11431-012-4748-2 [springer.com]

This is a pretty popular research topic nowadays. I have no idea why this MIT news is literally in every tech-blog on the net(other than their excellent PR department, I wished the PR guys in my university had the same enthusiasm...). I'm not trying to discredit them or anything, but while their approach is somewhat novel, similar results have been achieved in many different ways.

POWER (1)

wisebabo (638845) | 1 year,17 days | (#45036979)

To do anything really useful they'll need to probably have more power than their batteries can provide.

A wireless beaming (microwave?) power solution might be usable for local use. For long distance (interplanetary explorer?) use perhaps having each face of the cube covered with solar cells with the ability to recharge their batteries for relatively short bursts might be the only solution.

It might be good to see if they could form antenna arrays for long distance control and communications.

Re:POWER (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45037083)

If they can pass power from one to the next, you just need to plug in one end. (Where "plug in" could mean to a portable power source.)

Learn basic grammar - Americans... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45037169)

...sheesh...

"By spinning up the flywheel and then braking abruptly"

Braking IT abruptly.

Proposed name: (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037207)

Trillions.

(Obscure geek points to anyone who gets the reference)

Re:Proposed name: (1)

flink (18449) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037513)

Self assembling alien nano-robots. I did a book report on it in middle school in 1989.

Re:Proposed name: (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | 1 year,17 days | (#45037605)

The points are yours.

stahp! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,17 days | (#45037419)

Haven't you seen Battlestar, Stargate, Terminator, the Matrix or any other sci fi media? Do not invent replicators! Even the Ancients couldn't control them!

Seriously (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038121)

They fucking went and invented replicators?

Replicators (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,16 days | (#45038597)

All the star gate fans will immediately recognize these things as replicators. http://stargate.wikia.com/wiki/Replicator
only a little smaller and a little smarter and they could be pretty scary machines, or very very useful machines - the programming is all.

Kinda nice. (1)

Stoutlimb (143245) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038759)

I have a much better version of this that's immediately suitable for commercial and industrial apps. I suck at the funding part. Anyone want to donate or be an angel investor?

Next story... (2)

CCarrot (1562079) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038823)

Breaking Headline: "MIT Researchers Enter Secret Negotiations With IKEA"

News at 11

C'mon 7! (1)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | 1 year,16 days | (#45038939)

baby needs a new pair of shoes

Why does this remind me of Prey.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,16 days | (#45041583)

Yeah, this won't end well....

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