back to article New Terminator-style 'bots can self-assemble, leap, climb and SWARM

Roboticists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a range of self-assembling cube robots, which have no external moving parts. Youtube Video Despite their lack of limbs, the M-Blocks can climb over and around each other, jump into the air, roll around and even move when hanging upside down - all thanks to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The t1000,

    mimimetic polyalloy.

    1. tomban

      Re: The t1000,

      Your foster parents are dead.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Not Terminator

    Stargate & Stargate Atlantis Replicators... Much scarier...

    1. Crisp

      Re: Not Terminator

      It's ok! We're safe! We're fresh out of Neutronium as far as I can tell.

      (We really need a "Don't Panic!" icon)

      1. Katie Saucey

        Re: Not Terminator

        "It's ok! We're safe! "

        Unless there are any old Russian subs around...damn it.

      2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Not Terminator

        No neutronium just means you can't get human-form replicators. (Which need such gods-awful amounts of power to create in the first place that I am entirely unsure Earth can generate that and deliver it all to one place.) You can still get the bugs. Those creepy, evil bugs.

        Frankly, I always felt they were the single worst Sci-Fi enemy of all time. The human form replicators could be (sort of) reasoned with. The Pegasus replicators had some bizzare glitch where they actually constructed their ships and cities from regular materials (instead of blocks), making them vulnerable. Even the Borg always had the possibly of eventually negotiating a compromise.

        Not the replicator bugs. Those things were relentless. They had one purpose and one purpose only: make more bugs. You were nothing more than raw materials to them. They would consume whole planets and convert them all into bug-blocks.

        Terrifying, terrifying stuff. "Grey goo" given form and the ability to spray acid onto your face.

        I'm going to give that a great big "nope" and run the hell away.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not Terminator - @Trevor_Pott

          Upvoted for attention to laws of thermodynamics.

        2. Adrian Midgley 1

          Re: Not Terminator

          Aggressive hegemonising swarm.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            These are not the robots you are looking for

            I thought it was going to be something different. True "self assembling" robots would go online to Maplin to order the parts for the next generation, and then build them when they land on the doormat.

            At that point, we are just a credit-card away from oblivion. All it would take is for them to generate their own source of income - agriculture perhaps, or a spot on a reality TV show.

            Before our civilisation collapses they would use their surplus income to fund research into hyperdrive technology, then clump together and head off to assimilate the rest of the galaxy.

            1. d3rrial

              Re: These are not the robots you are looking for

              I also immediatly thought about the SG Replicators...

              Surprised Mantrid drones weren't mentioned. On the other hand, they don't have such a nice small form-factor. Really hope this project develops into something.

    2. Sander van der Wal
      Thumb Up


      From Alistair Reynold's "Galatic North". They took over the entiere galaxy.

  3. Locky

    Nothing to worry about here

    It's not like other scientist are developing velociraptor like robots that could combine with this to create the perfect killing machine;

    Well lucky for us there's no Skynet-like AI which will allow it to realise that humans are the threat;


    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Nothing to worry about here


  4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    A witch! A witch!

    Once we used (quite rightly) to burn witches - this smells strongly of witchcraft - prepare the stake and faggots before it's too late...

    1. Locky

      Re: A witch! A witch!

      To be fair, what is science if not witchcraft with clipboards?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: A witch! A witch!

        Pillar one: Science without results is just witchcraft.

        Pillar two: Get results or you're fired.

        Pillar three: if you suspect a coworker of bein' a witch, report them immediately. I cannot stress that enough. Witchcraft will not be tolerated.

        [Cave Johnson, c.a. 1957]

    2. The_Idiot

      Re: A witch! A witch!

      Steak _and_ faggots? I've nothing against protein overload, but I think we at least need some bashed tatties and neaps to go along o' that :-). Oh, and gravy. Though the whole 'faggots' thing sort of makes that a given... :-)):

      Damn. Now I'm hungry. Again. Sigh...

      1. ItsNotMe

        Re: A witch! A witch!

        Sorry to put a damper on your intended repast...but the STAKE (nee steak) and FAGOTS (nee FAGGOTS) @ Pen-y-gors was referring to...would be used to COOK your meal...not be the entree'.

        fag·ot - noun \ˈfa-gət\

        Definition of FAGOT

        : bundle: as

        a : a bundle of sticks

        b : a bundle of pieces of wrought iron to be shaped by rolling or hammering at high temperature

        OK...everyone back to work. The English lesson is over now.

        1. The_Idiot

          Re: A witch! A witch!

          Ah, me - I blush :-).

          I'll leave it to the floor to decide whether I was falling victim to poor reading comprehension - or instead to a dance of word and pune (courtesy of Mr N Molesworth, and nothing to do with _prunes_, which are chiz and revolting) on words :-).

          So stake thy ground sir, and I'll let my steak be ground - perhaps to make my faggots :-))).

      2. kain preacher

        Re: A witch! A witch!

        What no yorkshire pudding ?

    3. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: A witch! A witch!

      Incorrect. Burning was for heretics, whilst witness were generally hung or drowned. It's no better, but it pays to be historically accurate.

      1. BlueGreen

        Re: A witch! A witch!

        Being more historically accurate, I believe, witches tended to be hung in blighty but burned on the continent.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Re: A witch! A witch!

          Tended to be hung in blighty? I thought the method was drowning in the village pond. If they sunk they werent a witch and if they floated they were.. obviously a bit late by then.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @A witch! A witch!

            "I thought the method was drowning in the village pond. If they sunk they werent a witch and if they floated they were.. obviously a bit late by then."

            Yes, it was a bit late by then... but now, thanks to modern science, we have a foolproof way to ensure that innocent women don't get drowned. You simply have to put them on one pan of a giant weighing scale, with a duck in the other pan, and check that they are not in perfect balance. If they weigh the same, they will clearly float and are therefore made of wood and should be burned as a witch!

      2. Platelet

        Re: A witch! A witch!

        In the interests of historical accuracy - how many of the witnesses would they drown, and was it everyone who had seen the witches or only those who gave evidence?

    4. LarsG


      This will confuse out brethren from across the pond.

      It will be necessary to explain to them that faggots can be:

      An archaic unit of measurement for bundles of sticks used for burning heretics, witches were generally drowned.


      Is traditionally made from pig's heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavouring and sometimes bread crumbs, popular in the Midlands as a warming dish.

      The author is not anti-gay or promoting the burning of homosexuals, also the word minced is not to do with they way a person walks.

      In this day and age things need to be explained to prevent arrest and litigation.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Faggots?

        > This will confuse out brethren from across the pond.

        Just stop being such a faggot. They will get it.

        In extremis the can watch the excellent cross-pond translation effort "The 51st state":

        Hands pack of cigs to Amurrican:


        "No.... mutherfucka!"

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... I'll be able to solve a rubik's cube without dismantling it.

  6. TheWebIsMyKnowledgeBase...


    Resistance is futile...

  7. Isendel Steel


    Looks interesting

    Unfortunately the video clips look a bit like stop-frame animation (reminded me of Chorlton and the Wheelies).

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I'm just a little concerned

    In that these things look even less prepared for a war of annihilation than the average, non-stair climbing, Dalek.

    Ok, they can maybe go upstairs if enough of them prop each other up, but they're seriously lacking in the sink-plunger and eggwhisk department...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm just a little concerned

      In that these things look even less prepared for a war of annihilation than the average, non-stair climbing, Dalek.

      On the other hand, I know of no Dalek that could jump on your wallet and erase the mag swipes of all your credit cards. It's a good thing we use chip & PIN :)

    2. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Re: I'm just a little concerned

      They can do more than just go up stairs: they can *be* stairs!

  9. Stacy

    I was thinking more

    Terrahawks cubes... But then that just may be my age :)

    1. Splodger

      Re: I was thinking more

      Send in Sgt Major Zero!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: I was thinking more

      Thank goodness someone got around to Terrahawks with my having to show my age instead. Not that I remember Terrahawks of course. I'm too young.

  10. Maharg

    I, for one, welcome our new robotic cube overlords…

  11. JohnnyGStrings

    I see a lot of potential in this system... macro-molecular self-organising design, swarming behaviour, brilliant work.

  12. John Robson Silver badge


    If they only have a single actuator then can they not only jump "forwards" and "backwards" - how do they turn a corner?

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Control

      Gyroscopic effect? The flywheel wants to continue in a straight line. Rotate it and Newton mean you move the other way.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Control

        Wouldn't that require another actuator to rotate the flywheel perpendicular to it's axis?

    2. Michael Dunn

      Re: Control

      So they're just like Chinese ghosts, then.

  13. VinceH


    Self-assembling robots, and ideas about making them autonomous - and they'll probably get smaller, as well. What could possibly go wrong?

  14. anatak

    switching magnetic fields

    Could then not allow alignment and moving over each other by manipulating magnetic fields ? I am totally ignorant in magnetics but that would allow maybe movement without any moving parts.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    The end will look like a horde of Mexican jumping cubes?

    Or are these like the cube thing in Hellraiser?

  16. Rol Silver badge

    Killing is childs play.

    Not happy to rest with death by Meccano-droid we have death by Lego brick, never saw that one coming.

    At least it wasn't Stickle Bricks, oh that would be gruesome indeed.

    I'm thinking, My Little Ponies of the apocalypse, just around the corner.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Killing is childs play.

      This or crazy jihadi head-cutting / pancreas-eating hordes, what do you prefer?

      1. Rol Silver badge

        Re: Killing is childs play.

        Is that with or without chipatis.

  17. frank ly

    I've just got back from a local industrial estate

    I've bought a large amount of iron filings and steel swarf, to spread around the boundary of my property.

  18. Faye B

    Demon Seed

    This reminds me of the robot in the film Demon Seed. Not the ones built by the scientist, the one built by the huge brain. It appeared to be made out of thousands of little pyramids (3 sided ones) that stuck together and flipped round to make new shapes.

    This was an amazing thing to watch, as this was all before CGI got going, so I guess it was done by stop motion animation. There were a number of concepts in the film that were ahead of their time.

  19. envmod


    can't help thinking that any structures or tools etc created by these bots would be extremely prone to falling apart at the drop of a hat if all that's holding the various parts together are a few magnets. surely to be used for any practical purpose you need to ensure that any shape or structure created by these bots is as rigid and strong as a solid object?

    1. Rol Silver badge

      Re: fragile?

      Once in position I'd imagine a threaded bolt could cement their relationship.

      Once in position the spinning mass inside could reorientate itself and spin along its length to screw into the adjacent blocks.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder

    If the guy/gal who found out they can jump smiled?

  21. Levente Szileszky

    This is simply...


  22. Chris G Silver badge

    Dipole switching

    Get these things small enough (macro molecular) and with swarming programs and dipole switching the bonds will be strong enough to form anything. You will be able to watch grey goo jump and form itself into a velociraptor.

    At the moment I am stripping out the magnetron from my microwave and cobbling it together with a car battery and an invertor to make a semi portable EMP generator, not too sure it will work on these things but at least I can keep my coffee warm on the go.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Nanners

    more than meets the eye...

    robots in disguise! ...

    I is I, Megatron, that have given this knowledge unto these puny earth monkeys of flesh. My invading army is even now hurdling towards their mineral rich world where we will establish a new and deadlier decepticon army. Machines that will destroy the autobots and conquer the universe!!!....

  25. JCitizen Bronze badge

    Just in time for Halloween!

    Chucky vs blockhead! I for one can see a hundred or so of these things as being pretty dangerous if you get the central computer planning and control going, and use some simple dynamics.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was hoping for more...

    It looks impressive allright, but also limited at the same time. It seems to me that as soon as the blocks are closely together all that's steering them are their magnets. The movement itself seems more or less randomized.

    Which brings me to another aspect; I was a bit disappointed that they didn't show any footage of two of them working together. For example two blocks which were linked to each other and then tried to perform a flip or movement while staying synchronized.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Optimus Prime!

  28. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    I was worried we were heading into grey goo territory...

    ...but they've had the good sense to make these in nice bright colours, so that's OK.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: I was worried we were heading into grey goo territory...

      Gay goo?

  29. harmjschoonhoven

    Robots vs. Humans

    The talking heads in (1108797 views) are not lipsync.

    The M-Block robots in (76731 views) are, well, just cubes.

    So the (fascinating) image and sound are OK.

  30. FutureShock999

    Cool. The human race is now officially put on notice of our imminent departure from this universe, in historical timeframes. Given the rate of technological progression...I give us what, 100 or 200 years?

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