Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

These autonomous, self-assembling robots can join forces to solve problems

October 31, 2018

The robots can transform their physical form to carry out tasks in unfamiliar environments.

Clever little boxes: The SMORES-EP robots are three-inch-wide, cube-shaped wheeled modules that weigh about a pound. They include multiple cameras and a small computer to collect and process data from their surroundings.

How it works: Each of the robots is able to move independently and dock with the others to form larger systems. They can adapt from a wheeled robot into an arm able to lift and move objects, for example. The team placed a robot in three new environments where it had to work out where to look, what shape to take on, and how to assemble itself to complete a specified task. In one example it was asked to find a pink object and drop it off in a different location. This is the first time such modular robots have been able to successfully complete complex tasks in such an autonomous manner.

How about the real world? An obvious scenario would be exploring disaster zones for search and rescue, thanks to the robot’s adaptability. It could also be used to make deliveries or collect garbage. Another likely setting is within people’s homes, thanks to its ability to climb stairs or work its way around clutter. The research was published in Science Robotics.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

What does GPT-3 “know” about me? 

Large language models are trained on troves of personal data hoovered from the internet. So I wanted to know: What does it have on me?

An AI that can design new proteins could help unlock new cures and materials 

The machine-learning tool could help researchers discover entirely new proteins not yet known to science.

DeepMind’s new chatbot uses Google searches plus humans to give better answers

The lab trained a chatbot to learn from human feedback and search the internet for information to support its claims.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.