Material to Build Modular Robot

Modular robot hardware, such as Polybot, CONRO, M-Tran, Molecule, and Crystal, the I-cube, and Molecubes generally have nodes that are greater than 10 cm in smallest dimension and cost more than $50 per node to produce. This is because they are typically made using off-the shelf, macro-scale electronic and mechanical components, and a large number of standardized components are required to produce a functional system.

To make modular robots a useful raw material for building products, the per-node cost must be substantially reduced. Over the past several years, modular robot design has moved toward systems with few or no moving parts in the nodes. Some of these systems utilize an external fluid bath and external agitation to provide the force and energy to make and break connections, controlling node to node adhesion to steer the structure toward the desired result. Kirby described 24 mm diameter cylindrical nodes, capable of translating in a plane by rotating around one another by activating a radial positioned array of electromagnets.

Another strategy is employed by the Miche self-disassembling modular robot, which starts with all nodes connected, and then releases magnetic latches to disconnect node that are not part of the structure. These systems have lower per-node cost and are more amenable to micro fabrication than the previous generation of designs.

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