M-Blocks are remote-controlled robotic cubes with magnetic edges, and each one contains an orientable flywheel that spins inside the cube, enabling them to climb around on and stick to each other.
The flywheel (specifically called a “reaction wheel“) can spin up to 20,000 revolutions per minute. When it comes to an abrupt stop, this heaves the block in the according direction. Low RPMs make for subtle navigation around a lattice of M-Blocks, as seen above. High RPMs lead to showy jumps, seen below.
We spoke to John Romanishin, an assistant research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratories and one of the leads for M-Blocks (the M stands for “momentum”), who told us that while the project is still in its earliest stages, future iterations will be much more capable, eventually having a sense of awareness for each other and the shape they are a part of. This would make it a snap to put a bunch of blocks on the floor and tell them to combine into a specific shape.
The most interesting implication here seems to be in disaster relief — imagine thousands of M-Blocks working together to create a self-assembling bridge at the touch of a button. Alternatively, M-Blocks could make for a rapid scaffolding setup, even self-assembling furniture. It’s comparable to real-life Transformers, or robot “molecules” that can constitute a much larger device than themselves.
Here’s what an M-Block looks like on the inside: