Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

If you think the liquid android in Terminator 2-the one that reassembled itself after being smashed into tiny droplets-is centuries off, think again. Robots built from small, intelligent, interchangeable modules are already squirming their way off the drawing boards in labs around the world, including Mark Yim’s Modular Robotics Laboratory at the Palo Alto Research Center. A senior researcher at PARC, Yim has developed a bestiary of versatile “PolyBots,” proving for the first time that different groupings of identical modules can locomote like a snake, a spider, a lizard, a wheel, and more. To Yim, these itinerant prototypes are early steps toward Proteus-like machines that adapt to new environments-say, the surface of a remote planet-by altering not simply their behavior but their very anatomy.

Future modular robots could also help out closer to home, Yim predicts: “Make my bed, do the dishes, clean the house, change the oil in my car. That kind of thing would be very hard for a robot with a fixed shape, but if you have the ability to adapt and change your shape, that opens up a wide variety of tasks.” Technology Review senior editor Wade Roush visited Yim and his team and got a first-hand look as the early predecessors of such shape-changing machines crept, crawled and rolled around the laboratory.


0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me