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Engineering Materials
Video: Robotic Cubes Self-Assemble
10/18/2013

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From left: M-Block modular robot without exterior panels, metallic frame including edge magnets, and several cubes attached to each other. (Source: M. Scott Brauer/MIT)
From left: M-Block modular robot without exterior panels, metallic frame including edge magnets,
and several cubes attached to each other.
(Source: M. Scott Brauer/MIT)

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Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Cool robot parts
Ann R. Thryft   10/25/2013 1:21:03 PM
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I agree, Elizabeth. I'm glad you brought it up because the whole concept of what could work as a secondary, stronger connection method is an interesting design--and manufacturing--problem. Pinions might be too complex and expensive, and at much smaller dimensions probably wouldn't work at all.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Cool robot parts
Elizabeth M   10/24/2013 5:03:59 AM
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Ah, yes, sorry about the misunderstanding there. I didn't read the whole thread and missed that part. Just now went back and read over the comments and I see what he means. Still would be a good idea!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Instant bridge in a natural disaster
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2013 7:03:36 PM
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Jim, after writing about sophisticated optimization software I saw demo'ed at the Altair conference, I'm even more acutely aware of how much the smallest changes can make in efficiency and manufacturability of a design, not to mention cost. So I'm not at all sure that adding extra volume to each cube that's only going to be used in only a few of them would be a good idea from a cost and price standpoint of manufacturing thousands or more. That's not done in any other high-volume product; I doubt it would be in robots. The economies of scale you seem to be thinking of are usually applicable to zillions of semiconductor chips or millions of very simple consumer products. Economies of scale don't work the same in different types of product designs.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Instant bridge in a natural disaster
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   10/23/2013 2:25:44 PM
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OK, point taken.  SO, thinking about it from a product design perspective you still benefit from economy of scale by designing the basic cube package with void space areas that can house the special features you mention on enhanced cubes.  Like adding bells & whistles option to a car; the base model remains the same.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Instant bridge in a natural disaster
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2013 12:05:05 PM
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Jim, that identical-cube scenario is called a homogeneous architecture, which does have the advantage of interchangeable cubes that are easily replaced in a structure, as we discussed in this feature article on self-assembled devices: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138 But the researchers say that they do envision "special-purpose cubes, containing cameras, or lights, or battery packs, or other equipment, which the mobile cubes could transport." This is a heterogeneous architecture, which gives the structure, or robot, built with such modules much more potential functions and capabilities.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Cool robot parts
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2013 12:04:30 PM
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Elizabeth, Jim's description combined magnetic and pinion connections, in a 2-step connection process. Unless I misunderstood what he wrote. Right, Jim?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Cool robot parts
Ann R. Thryft   10/23/2013 11:53:33 AM
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Rob, the researchers say in the press release that they hope to get the module size down a lot smaller, as is typical in modular robotics for self-assembly, as we discussed here:
http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=261138

Elizabeth M
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Re: Cool robot parts
Elizabeth M   10/23/2013 4:57:34 AM
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I agree with you about JimT's suggestion, Ann...it's a good one, Jim. Why should these self-assembly robots be mutually exclusive? Magnetic connections would be a great way to connect them.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Instant bridge in a natural disaster
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   10/22/2013 10:28:14 PM
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I agree, and I think it would be 'key' that all blocks be identical; ubiquitously interchangeable like Lego Blocks, all the same size.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Cool robot parts
Rob Spiegel   10/22/2013 7:20:29 PM
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Ann, then it will certainly be interesting to see what the team comes up with next. While the cubes show a new take on movement and control, the next step may be a practical application. Perhaps integrated drive reassembly as a plant shifts from one product to the next.

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