Modular Robot Self-Heals and Even Redesigns Itself for New Tasks

Marco Dorigo, Nithin Mathews
The thing before the thing before the thing before the Terminator.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

The T-1000 blob-terminator seems like a too-easy touchstone, but when it comes to autonomously reconfigurable robots―machines that become other machines at will―it really is perfect. See, this is a very real goal within robotics and artificial intelligence. It’s what we might even think of as a fundamental goal, a toppling of a once-fundamental limitation of robots (or even machines, generally) as a concept: They are only what we make them.

Writing this week in Nature Communications, computer scientist Marco Dorigo and colleagues at Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium describe a robotics system that basically consists of a bunch of little robots that are able to work together to build themselves into different kinds of big robots. The result isn’t exactly liquidmetal Robert Patrick, but it’s a key demonstration of shape-shifting robotics that may easily be scaled from from just a few modular subunits to however many you can reliably network together in a small space (which is a lot).

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