In the future, we may have drones that can autonomously change size, shape and function. Basically, Transformers is starting to get real.
Currently, most autonomous robots are stuck with the function and form they were designed for, but scientists are working hard to change that. In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, a team led by Nithin Mathews of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium showcased its fleet of “mergeable nervous system” (MNS) robots. Basically, their gang of bots not much larger than tennis balls are connected to a central decision-making robot (called the brain), and they can merge and morph it different formations to serve any number of functions.
The 10 robots used in the study are fully autonomous and have a circular frame, tracks and wheels. Sensors and LED lights line the frame.
“We have developed robotic units that can autonomously form physical connections with each other. Previously, however, each unit was always an independent robot,” researchers write in the study.
To form physical connections, each unit has what’s called an inter-robot connection module. This is an “active gripping device with three fingers and a passive docking ring.” One robot inserts its three fingers into another bot’s docking ring and, voila, they’re connected.
After doing a little robot shuffle and inserting fingers into places we shouldn’t speak of, the units form an MNS robot. If the robots are told to form a circle, they can form a circle. If they are told to form a “V”, they can form a “V”.
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.