roBlocks are small, computerized cubes that can be combined to make robots. They began as research project at Carnegie Mellon. They look like great fun for fooling around or teaching programming concepts.
The catalog page shows about twenty different blocks. Each of those blocks has a single purpose. There are four types of blocks: Sensors (light, sound), Actuators (movement), Operators (negative, min/max) and Utility (power). When put together they can be made to perform complex actions.
The creators provide an example of roBlock’s interactions in their paper “The Robot is the Program: Interacting with roBlocks“:
It is easy to understand the basic idea of roBlocks by considering a simple light seeking robot made of two roBlocks: a light sensor block placed atop a tread block. The sensor measures the ambient light level and produces a number. The tread block gets that number from the light sensor block that sits on it, and runs its motor with a speed that corresponds to the magnitude of that number. To make the robot avoid light, take the two blocks apart and insert a red Inverse block between them. This operator block takes the number produced by the light sensor block, inverts it and transmits it to the tread block at the bottom. The new three-block robot moves away from a light source just as the previous robot moved toward it. This sort of modularity is possible because each of the blocks operates independently without knowing its place within the construction.
The creators are going to be commercializing them later this year. To see the prototypes in action check out this video. or play with their online simulator . No word on whether or not they will open source the hardware.
The world of programmable hardware is expanding. Between roBlocks, IPRE (the open-source robot-kit that was at ETech), BugLabs (the programmable, open-source gadgets — Radar post) , and Lego MINDSTORMS NXT there is starting to be something for every sophistication level and wallet-size.