These Cubes With No Moving Parts Are Actually Self-Assembling Robots

There's no shortage of proposed ideas for self-assembling robots, but they're usually either incredibly complex or just a little boring. In contrast, these adorable little cubes have no obvious moving parts—but can still climb over and around one another, leap through the air, or roll across the ground.

Called M-Blocks, these things—developed at MIT—contain a flywheel that can spin at up to 20,000 revolutions per minute. By braking the flywheel, angular momentum is imparted to the cube, which allows them to move in space, seemingly by magic. Then, on every face are specially placed magnets which allow the cubes to join together and create larger structures.

As with any modular-robot system, the researchers hope to miniaturize the things—and their ultimate aim is to make them small enough so that swarms of the robots can self-assemble in such a way that they appear more like liquid metal than automatons. Fortunately, the fact that they're so simple could make that a very real possibility. And that is simultaneously very exciting and, depending on how quickly networked AI catches up, very scary. [MIT]