Robot takeover might be imminent but for this fatal weakness: For all their powers, robots are just a bunch of screws lying on a table unless we put them together. That is, until a team of robotics engineers at MIT gave the game away. Earlier this month MIT News ran a story about a breakthrough technology called M-Blocks, little toy-sized cubes that bring us closer than ever to having modular, self-assembling robots. As the article and accompanying YouTube video show, inside each M-Block is a flywheel that spins incredibly fast. When the flywheel is braked, angular momentum is created, which propels the block forward. All of the blocks have magnets on their outer faces, and when the blocks propel into each other, they stick together, beginning the process of assembling a more complex robotic form. Daniela Rus, one of the lead engineers on the project, explains in the video that modular technology is very practical, because it allows robots to be reconfigured to suit whatever task they might need to perform...like, perhaps, the extermination of humankind.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.