Scientists create Cube Robots that can shapeshift in Space

A modular cube robots system that can morph into numerous shapes has been developed by researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the University of Calgary. There are no motors or moving parts in ElectroVoxels. Instead, they shift around each other using electromagnets.

An ElectroVoxel cube has an electromagnetic ferrite core wrapped in copper wire on each edge. Each ElectroVoxel side is approximately 60 millimeters long. It just costs 60 cents in total. When a magnet’s polarity is altered, the edges attract or repel each other. As a result, the cubes rotate in a different direction. The direction of each electromagnet’s current is controlled via printed circuit boards and electronics inside each cube.

There are two fundamental types of locomotion for cube robots. They can traverse from one ElectroVoxel to the next or pivot around the edge of another cube. Reconfigurations can be programmed using a software planner. A user can highlight individual magnets, adjust the speed at which the cube moves, and guarantee that the cubes do not clash.

The software, according to the researchers, can operate up to 1,000 ElectroVoxels. Users can instruct the blocks to change shapes, such as transforming from a chair to a couch. They can choose which cube moves in which direction, and the software will calculate the electromagnetic assignments required to complete the task.

ElectroVoxels were tested in microgravity on a parabolic flight by the researchers. The robots were discovered to be capable of operating in low-gravity conditions. ElectroVoxels could be utilized to alter and construct structures in space, according to the researchers.

They claim that the cube robots might alter a spacecraft’s inertia qualities, reducing the need for additional fuel for reconfiguration. The scientists claim that this solves many of the problems associated with launch bulk and volume. They believe that the system would eventually allow for a variety of space-related use cases, such as augmenting and replacing structures throughout a succession of launches, as well as developing temporary structures to support astronauts and aid in spacecraft inspections.

ElectroVoxels could be used to create self-sorting storage containers in the future. However, more extensive modeling and optimization would be required to allow the cube robots to reconfigure more easily in Earth’s gravity, according to the researchers.

“While the potential benefits in space are particularly great, the paradox is that the favorable dynamics provided by microgravity mean that some of those problems are actually easier to solve — in space, even small forces can move big things,” said Martin Nisser, a Ph.D. student at CSAIL and lead author on an ElectroVoxels paper. “By using this technology to tackle real-world challenges in space, we want to incubate it for future use on Earth as well.”

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Written by Emma Ava

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