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

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

AI hype is built on high test scores. Those tests are flawed.

With hopes and fears about the technology running wild, it's time to agree on what it can and can't do.

Deepfakes of Chinese influencers are livestreaming 24/7

With just a few minutes of sample video and $1,000, brands never have to stop selling their products.

You need to talk to your kid about AI. Here are 6 things you should say.

As children start back at school this week, it’s not just ChatGPT you need to be thinking about.

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.