Recent Superbot work shows that modular building blocks can be highly functional.
Wei-Min Shen of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute recently reported to NASA significant progress in developing "SuperBot," identical modular units that plug into each other to create robots that can stand, crawl, wiggle and even roll. He illustrated his comments with striking video of the system in action, video now posted on line.
"Superbot consists of Lego-like but autonomous robotic modules that can reconfigure into different systems for different tasks. Examples of configurable systems include rolling tracks or wheels (for efficient travel), spiders or centipedes (for climbing), snakes (for burrowing in ground), long arms (for inspection and repair in space), and devices that can fly in micro-gravity environment.
"Each module is a complete robotic system and has a power supply,
micro- controllers, sensors, communication, three degrees of freedom,
and six connecting faces (front, back, left, right, up and down) to
dynamically connect to other modules.