Science added to fiction of Terminator 2 with new cube robots - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 7 October

Small cubes that can independently roll across the ground, leap through the air, and snap together to form different shapes have been developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


Science added to fiction of Terminator 2 with new cube robots

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 7 October


Emma Seith

Small cubes that can independently roll across the ground, leap through the air, and snap together to form different shapes have been developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

An army of 100 of the robots – known as M-Blocks – is now being built. It is hoped that when the cubes are scattered randomly across the floor, they will be able to identify each other, come together and coalesce to become a chair, ladder or desk on demand.

Ultimately the hope is that the blocks can be minituarised so that hordes of swarming microbots can self-assemble, like the liquid metal T-1000 robot in the Hollywood blockbuster Terminator 2.

A more refined version of the cubes – at their current size – could prove extremely useful, the scientists say. For example, armies of mobile blocks could be used to temporarily repair bridges or buildings during emergencies, or to raise and reconfigure scaffolding for building projects. They could assemble into different types of furniture or heavy equipment as needed.

The blocks have no external parts but move with the help of an internal flywheel. They stick together using magnets.

They are currently controlled by computer instructions sent over wireless radio, but in future the researchers hope algorithms can be loaded directly into the blocks, making them entirely autonomous and capable of adapting to different environments. This ability to potentially “think” independently leads to philosophical questions about how the advance could impact on the development of artificial intelligence.

Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which developed the M-Blocks, said they have the potential to be revolutionary.

“A robot designed for a single task has a fixed architecture, and that robot will perform the single task well but will perform poorly on a different task in a different environment,” Rus said. “If we do not know ahead of time what the robot will have to do and when it will have to do it, it is better to consider making modular robots that can attain whatever shape is needed.”




Questions

1.) What is artificial intelligence (AI)?
2.) What do you think are the "philosophical questions" associated with AI?
3.) How many uses can you think of for technology like this?


Related resources


Introduction to robotics

  • An explanatory PowerPoint presentation to introduce the world of robotics to your class.

2D robots

  • Match the shape to the robot in this cut-and-stick activity with self-assessment.

Mi robot

  • Be creative in Spanish with this robot-making activity focussing on modal verbs.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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