The modular robot

by @ulaulaman about #MIT #robot #technology #modular
Starting from a famous speech by Richard Feynman (pdf), it was born nanotechnology. One day in future we'll probably have nano-chip, nano-computer, nano-bot, but for now we must content ourselves with the robots with wheels and legs that explore the remote corners of the Earth, and also arriving on Mars in the past years.
A possible evolution of robots is described in science fiction: for example in Alan Moore's Tom Strong, one of the enemy of the hero is the Modular Man, an electronic entity consistuted by many memory modules, separated but which together realized one of the most advanced and deadliest artificial intelligence in the world. Using the Modular Man, Moore brings back a classic of the genre: the revolt of the technology against mankind. A variation of this idea is proposed by Frank Schatzing in The Swarm, but in this last case the superintelligent entity is constituted by a lot of single-celled organisms that are separately very simple, but together extremely complex. In some sense also the swarms of insects could be understood like a single entity.
Let us suppose now that every single part of similar entity is electronic, and, for some reason, that the experiment is beyond the control of the toy factory that developed it: the consequence is a catastrofic novel, The Reproductive System (a.k.a. Mechasm)(1), written with a lot of humor by John Sladek, in which the writer describes some mechanism that are just a bit more advanced version of the Molecule, a self-assemble modular robot developed by Keith Kotay and Daniela Rus at MIT:
The Molecule is a robotic module capable of aggregating with other identical modules to form dynamic three-dimensional structures. Molecules can selectively form rigid connections to other Molecules and, by using these connections and their rotating degrees of freedom, modules can move to different locations on Molecule structures. A Molecule module is composed of two cubical atoms linked by a rigid 90-degree link called the bond. Each atom has five inter-Molecule connection points and two degrees of freedom. One degree of freedom allows the atom to rotate 180 degrees relative to its bond connection, and the other degree of freedom allows the atom (and therefore the entire Molecule) to rotate 180 degrees relative to one of the inter-Molecule connectors. The bond and connector degrees of freedom permit independent movement on a substrate of identical Molecules, including straight-line traversal and 90 degree concave and convex transitions to adjacent surfaces. A Molecule moves by attaching an atom to some other Molecule and actuating one or more of its four degrees of freedom. Attachments are made using the gripper connector mechanism, which consists of an active four-armed gripper and a passive "grippee" which provides an anchoring surface for connection.

via Bruce Sterling, Tech Crunch, MIT news
(1) A fun, exhilarating novel in which a series of electronic boxes of all sizes begin to take possession of all electronic equipment on which they can put their chips, throwing into chaos towns and big cities like Los Angeles, while a mad scientist dreams the domain of the Earth and a group of Russian and American spies, unaware of what is happening in the U.S., they challenge themselves to get on a French missile intended to go to the Moon. And just so we do not miss anything, we put in the story also a brilliant professor of just 22 years old, a nerdy researcher and two students who do not know how, do not know why, they are doing a small tour of the world during one of the most classic trip.
A story that it seems written by Douglas Adams, or could became an exciting episode of Dr. Who:

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