The robot made of very small magnetic cubes: because it will be useful in space

Imagine a robot capable of assuming different forms, made of electromagnets and without motors that move it. We have just described ElectroVoxela very small cube on the side of just 60 millimeters able to join with other cubes to create a complex scalable and self-reconfigurable modular robotic system. It is the invention of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of MIT in collaboration with the University of Calgary, potentially revolutionary especially in contexts of microgravity. And it is a particular case, in which the robot does not replace the work of man but transforms itself into the desired object or structure.


Each edge of the ElectroVoxel cube is a electromagnetic core of ferrite wrapped with a copper wire: by changing the polarity of the magnet – the direction is controlled by the printed circuits integrated inside it -, the edges of the different cubes attract or repel each other, causing each module moves or rotates around the edge of another cube (two are the foreseen movements: pivoting one-way and two-way e traversal bidirectional).

The interaction happens through software, through which the single movements and their speed are defined. To date, it is possible control up to 1,000 ElectroVoxels simultaneouslydefining the behavior of each of these so that the modular robotic system take the desired shape.


The structure implemented by the team of researchers is ideal in microgravity conditions: “In the space“, explains Martin Nisser, first signing of the study,”even small forces can make big things move“. Applications are planned even in the terrestrial context but the results in these contexts are not yet considered entirely satisfactory.

Each single module – the cube – has a cost of just 60 cents, which makes them highly cost-effective. They have already been tested on a parabolic flight – in microgravity – with excellent behavior. It is in fact in the space industry that they can be best exploited, perhaps for vary the inertia properties of a rocket without having to resort to the use of engines (and precious fuel). ElectroVoxel cubes could for example be employed for the construction of temporary structures in spaceperhaps for the inspection of spacecraft.