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SYFY WIRE robots

Real-life Voltron? Scientists develop mini robots that combine anime-style

By Jacob Oller
smoresEP robot

Little robots that work together to form a bigger, better robot are pop culture standbys. Voltron, Power Rangers' Zords - even if they have pilots inside them, these robotic vehicles made some epic toys and some incredible imagined adventures. Now, like so many things in science fiction, this dream may become a reality...kind of. 

A new video from University of Pennsylvania’s Modlab shows off their “self-reconfigurable modular robots” that, thanks to a new algorithm, reform into a different configuration. Basically, what if you didn’t have to painstakingly transform your Transformer toys by hand? SMORES-EP is here to make that dream a reality. The Self-assembling Modular Robot for Extreme Shapeshifting (with EP referencing the Electro-Permanent magnets keeping the bots together) are battery-powered, WiFi-enabled future tech. So yeah, these little guys turn into a big, fluid robot and it’s awesome.

Check them out:

Ok so that got pretty technical, but basically the team has developed a method by which these modular robots can undock, maneuver, and redock in their new position as efficiently as possible — sometimes even getting a little help from one of their teammates. Engadget has long reported on modular robots at varying levels of sophistication, but these flexible machines are definitely the best so far.

While the simple vehicle’s transformation into a scorpion-like machine with a rear arm is done with painstaking precision, this demonstration proves that this kind of algorithm is effective — and can likely be used in the future to allow these ‘bots to turn into more and more useful configurations. Though they probably won’t be wielding swords or flying through space any time soon.