Reconfigurable Self-Assembling Robots: MIT M-Block

Although  Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 is the most iconic Terminator, the different liquid metal terminators are amazing and marked a keystone in movie special effects. The T-1000 from Terminator 2: judgment day, T-X (Kristanna Lokken) from Terminator 3: Rise of the machines, and the recent Rev-9 from Terminator Dark fate, all of them got their special moment.

Schwarzenegger Terminator

Since those terminators are made of liquid metal, they can take the shape and appearance of anyone or anything it comes in contact with. Everybody remembers the scenes when T-1000 (terminator 2) melts in the helicopter, or when T-X (Terminator 3) reshapes her boobs. The idea of a robot that automatically reshapes to any shape is great, and it may become reality sooner than expected.


The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) from the MIT gave an important step towards such goal. However, they are not using any metal liquid. They developed the so called M-block



M-Block MIT
The M-Block

The M-Blocks are cubes with no external moving parts. Nonetheless, they’re able to climb over and around one another, leap through the air, roll across the ground, and even move while suspended upside down from metallic surfaces.  

Inside each M-Block is a flywheel that can reach speeds of 20,000 revolutions per minute; when the flywheel is braked, it imparts its angular momentum to the cube. On each edge of an M-Block, and on every face, are cleverly arranged permanent magnets that allow any two cubes to attach to each other. Thus, the M-Blocks may be arranged in any shape

Currently the M-Blocks receive commands via a radio signal. Future research will deal with automating such task. The commands and algorithms will be loaded into each M-Block, so that several hundreds of M-Blocks scattered randomly across the floor will be to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, or any other shape. The following video shows the M-Blocks and an explanation from the developers.

In this video you can see a more detailed explanation.

References & further reading

What is the most eco-friendly packaging? | environmentally-friendly packing

Due to recent climate changes and our ever-changing environment, it has become more obvious than ever that we need to look for eco friendly solutions. Now, when it comes to energy sources and cargo transportation, being green can become quite complicated. It doesn't take much research to realize how complicated our climate problems are and how difficult it will be for us to deal with them. But, the one thing we can do is start small and local. And one of the ways we can do that is by exploring different eco friendly packaging options and seeing how we can use them. Don't underestimate the importance of such small changes, as they often lead to bigger, more impactful ones.
cardboard vs plastic packing

Cardboard eco-friendly packaging
When it comes to packaging, the first thing that people think of is cardboard. After all, the most common type of boxes that we use is made from it. So, it should come as no surprise that cardboard is a great solution for packaging in numerous situations. But, how eco-friendly is cardboard, actually? Most people believe that due to its recyclability and natural materials, it is the most eco friendly packing solution. But, you'd be surprised.
 
Cardboard used for eco friendly packaging
Cardboard is not always the best eco friendly packaging choice
Why cardboard is often overrated
In an ideal world, every piece of cardboard would be properly used, saved, and then recycled. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world. A big percentage of cardboard is simply discarded as it is often the easier, hassle-free solution. Therefore, recycling that cardboard becomes impossible. Now, even if we manage to recycle cardboard, doing so is not energy free. Don't get us wrong, it is far better than making new cardboard. But, it still requires a lot of energy and resources. And, if we continue to use cardboard at the current rate, those resources might not be enough.
Green cardboard packing
So, is there a situation where cardboard packaging is the most eco friendly option? Well, as it turns out, there is. The best situations for cardboard usage are when you can recycle them easily. Even though recycling can be costly, it is still much more preferable to purchasing new packaging or throwing the old ones away. Not to mention that quality boxes can be reused multiple times, which makes them much more eco-friendly. So, cardboard can be a green packaging option. Just as long as you use good quality and you make sure to recycle it afterward.
Plastic eco friendly packaging
Plastic eco friendly packaging may seem like an oxymoron. After all, the biggest contributor to world waste and pollution seems to be plastic. With all those garbage patches in the ocean and the fact that it will take hundreds if not thousands of years for plastic to dissolve, how can one even argue that plastic can be eco-friendly? Well, as it turns out, there are ways in which you can use certain plastic containers for eco friendly packaging.
Eco-friendly plastic
The idea that all plastic is terribly detrimental to our environment is an old one. Once we started mass producing plastic, we made it in the most eco-damaging way possible. With little regard for natural resources, we made countless tons of plastic, and for a long time, we didn't even bother to recycle.
 
A bunch of plastic waste
We still have a big, worldwide problem with non-recycled plastic, which is why we need to be careful when using it
But, that time is long gone. Now we have eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic that is great for packaging. Whether you want to store your possessions safely or transport them over long distances, there are plastic packaging solutions that you can use. Not to mention that plastic containers are sometimes the only solution for packaging, especially when we are talking about fragile items or liquid ones.
Cardboard VS plastic
When it comes to comparing the safety and sturdiness of materials, plastic will almost always be better than cardboard. There is not a type of cardboard that you can use, no matter the quality, that can ever compare to a mediocre plastic container. When it comes to packing and preparing your items for transport, plastic will always come out on top. You can argue that, in certain situations, cardboard can be better for gathering moisture. But you can easily deal with that by using proper padding with plastic containers. The possible downside to plastic containers is that they are more expensive and harder to recycle. It is much easier to find a company that recycles cardboard than plastic, as recycling plastic is more demanding and complicated. But there is a way around this.
 
A recycling facility
It takes much more knowledge and energy to properly recycle plastic then cardboard
Renting plastic
As it turns out, the best way to use plastic for packaging is to rent it. Numerous companies offer plastic container rental, and it can easily be one of the eco-friendliest ways to deal with the packing. By doing so, you are reducing your carbon footprint effectively to zero (at least when it comes to packaging). Now, you can try renting cardboard boxes, but this is rarely feasible. Even the best cardboard boxes will become unusable after a couple of uses. Meanwhile, plastic containers can remain in pristine condition for years. Now, renting plastic is not the best solution for long-term storage, for obvious reasons. But when it comes to eco-friendly cargo transportation, plastic containers are the way to go.
Natural packaging
Finally, we come to the newest ways in which companies deal with eco friendly packaging. Namely, numerous Asian companies have started using completely natural packaging for their products. Materials made out of hemp, or even banana leaves are great, especially when used properly. With any luck, these eco-friendly packing trends will catch some wind and spread to the western nations. So, if you are running a company and are thinking of different ways in which to pack your products, consider being ahead of the curve. With some simple designs, you can make all-natural packaging quite possible.

Acknowledgment
We thank the contribution of Lisa Roberts