Meet the Modbot!

More modules for more fun, this video introduces Modbot to the world.

Modbot is an Australian startup that is developing a modular robotics arm.

They are presenting at TechCrunch’s Hardware Battlefield 2014 during
CES 2014 in Las Vegas.
Check it out live at 3 PM PST 8th Jan.

And stay tuned to the blog for more news and analysis.

News Flash

Breaking News!

Modbots video and stage presentation added.



Modbot Goes LIVE at TechCrunch 3PM PST 8th Jan

UPDATE: Folow the live presentation 3 PM PST at

UPDATE: New Video introducing Modbot

Check out

Modular robotics news coming soon.

Watch this space.

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Travelling in a Pure Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robotics System

This post focuses on travel slightly further in the
future than the mixed SRCMR/old school system I write
about in “Travelling in a Self-Reconfiguring World”.
Below I will describe how we will travel in a system built
entirely with modules.

The flexibility of SRCMR will drastically change the way we travel.
It will make travel and transportation much more convenient,
efficient, reliable, environmentally friendly and safe.

It will also allow us to go where older systems cannot take us.

There are two basic modes of travel in this system.
One when you travel together with others between major
hubs at busy times.

The second mode is when you travel on your own, between
less popular destinations or at less popular times.

When you travel together with other people and goods,
you will use an infrastructure of units that simply
pass you along by handing your travel cocoon of
modules over from one module to another in a long chain.
You will simply glide along in your travel cocoon as if
you were carried by a long line of conveyor belts,
one after another. I call this the Conduit.

When you need to go to places that are unique to you,
you will do so in a vehicle built with modules.
The SRCMR vehicle doesn’t look at all like the car today.
In fact, it has no permanent look at all, as few SRCMR
solutions do, because the whole point of SRCMR is that
it can become whatever you need in a specific situation.

The vehicle naturally changes both shape and the way it locomotes
or what the scientists call “the gait” to what is best at
any given time.

There are many different forms of locomotion, all suited for
different terrains or situations you may encounter. Some
examples of locomotion that can be used are wheels of different
sizes and styles, legs, caterpillar tracks, slithering like
a snake, or it could even ooze like slime. In this gait,
modules are moved from the rear end of the solution to
the front end one by one until the whole setup has moved.

All of these options in one vehicle makes it able to go
virtually anywhere and with very high efficiency.

To distinguish it from the Conduit, I call this mode the
Traverser, as it does just that, it traverses terrain.

Both these new “all modules based” ways to travel have significant
advantages over both the “old old” way we are used to now, and the
“new old” way where we combine SRCMR and existing infrastructure.
Because it uses only modules, it gets the full benefit of
self-reconfiguring modular robotics.

Beyond those benefits that are common to all SRCMR solutions,
comes the ones that are unique to travel and transport.

The Conduit will be much safer as it is one coherent system,
not many independent parts, neither physically nor control wise.
It creates a private physical space and keeps control of
all parts at all times. This will make it possible to avoid
many of the accidents caused by current vehicles. The vehicles
we know are separate from the road or track and have no control of
the space they operate in or information about the actions of other
parts of the system, or possible intrusions from outside the system.
All these aspects contribute to a higher likelihood of accidents
compared to the Conduit.

The Conduit also has the potential to use no or very little
fossil fuel, as electrical power can be used and is distributed
the same way as in any SRCMR solution.

When the Conduit is used for more intense traffic,
it can integrate well in the landscape it operates in.
It could even be made to move so that the same route is not
used all the time depending on specific factors in the environment.

In urban landscapes, the fact that the Conduit is a closed
system will be important from a noise pollution point of view.
On the outside, the conduit could be made silent.
This allows it to operate in densely populated areas without
being a nuisance like current roads and trains are.
The outside can also be adapted visually to blend in with
its surroundings. This might be a minor thing, but blending
into its surroundings is something current modes of
transportation cannot be said to do.

A benefit when using the more flexible Traverser mode, is that
it does not need any prepared roads, even though it benefits
from them where they are available. This means that the impact
on the land traversed will likely be small in most situations.

For the traveller, both the Transverser and the Conduit,
will offer significant improvements over the first version
of SRCMR based travel, and of course over old-school
travel too.

It will be able to traverse much more varied terrain,
and thus allow you to go to more locations.
It will be much more flexible as to the size and
shape of the space you travel in, or of the goods
that are transported, and it will offer a smoother
and more comfortable ride. For instance in the Conduit,
the system knows ahead of time what turns and other
adjustments that might be necessary, and can adapt
to them in a better way for a smoother ride.

It will also dramatically increase the capacity on
routes that are used intensely. Again, it can do so
because the Conduit is one coherent system and not
many separate systems acting independently.
Current highway systems have a usage of less than 5%,
mostly due to the necessary distance between vehicles
that will not be needed in the Conduit. It will also
be easier to use traffic that is stacked on top of each
other rather than one after each other, as many smaller
cocoons that are going to the same destination can be
assembled into an ad hoc super cocoon, making the
conduit a 3D system.

I think these changes to the way we travel in the future,
with a slightly longer time perspective, will change how
we live our lives. I will write more about those changes
in future posts.

Radio Statler interview

This is my interview for radio Statler on Self-reconfiguring modular robot
from Hope number 9 in New York July 2012.

My interview on Self-reconfiguring modular robot in Radio Statler at Hope number 9, July 2012

If you have the opportunity to visit the next hope in 2014 do not miss it.
It is great! I am definitely going!

Students love the Cubelets

This is a guest post

In Canadian schools, June is a month that requires some of the most creative teaching.

Picture this:
Summer hits. The sun is out. The weather is hot. Minds start to wander into dream
lands of summer vacations. Thoughts of sleeping in, swimming and playing video games
replace math, language and science lessons.

Motivating students in June is difficult. When I mentioned an extra assignment
to my students, one that was completely voluntary, I figured that a small
handful would want to participate.

I was wrong.

In mid June I showed students a Cubelets video that I had found on youtube.
The class freaked out. The kids started asking where they could buy some and
if we could “please, please, please” get some for our class. I told them we
had gotten some on loan from the, but there was
a catch (“nothing in life is free”). I told them that they could have time
to play with the Cubelets, but it would cost them a writing assignment.

I expected the majority of my students to lose interest when I mentioned work.

I should have known better.

My class is awesome. They are hard-working and committed learners with a zest
for trying new things. They are the kind of people that I want running the
world in twenty years.

They all volunteered.

Next step was finding a way for the students to get some small group time to
work with the Cubelets. Currently our school is very focused on oral language
development and the power of discourse. In short, our school is testing out
how meaningful conversations and human interaction have the power to push learning.
When I mentioned to my principal that I might need some support/extra
bit of supervision for this Cubelets assignment to take place, she quickly
arranged for it.

Watching the students work with the Cubelets was an amazing experience.
I promised to stay out of their way and let them play. At times it was
really challenging to not step out and “help”. They went through cycles
of frustration where they would blurt out things like
“what the heck does this thing do” and “this isn’t working”.
Not teaching them and guiding them through this was hard, but also a
very necessary part of the process. I wanted to see how they learned
together, not how well they could follow instructions.

As they worked, there were a few trends that I observed. Every group jumped
right in, fearlessly. At some point all groups connected all of the cubelets
together to see what would happen. Some did this systematically, others
randomly, but all groups tried it out. All groups really were the most
interested by the wheels and making creations that moved. The lights and
sound were cool, but movement was unanimously a measure of success.
When a group made a creature that could move, they cheered and did
some kind of victory dance.

I was most impressed with the groups that really sat down and tried to
figure out what each cube did before putting them together. Two girls,
Ashley and Kate, figured out that
“One of the black Cubelets uses light, one is a motor sensor, one is
for temperature, one controls the amount of power you’re using
(with a knob)”.

More importantly, they got the bigger idea that
“They all send information” of some kind. Another group of boys,
Daniel, Rakeem and Johnson, separated all of the cubes by colour
to figure out how each one worked. For example, they figured out
that “the red ones are like power on” so that they could build
their “spinning drill”.

While the students played, I recorded them. The following day in
class, we took a look at all of the videos and I gave them 15 minutes
to write as much as they could – less focus on quality, more focus
on quantity. At the end of the speed writing session they had to go
back and underline their best 3 ideas. These could be single words
or sentences. Some of the ideas that came out were:

  • “I recommend this item for anyone who likes to learn about how electricity works” – Thomas
  • “My group made a spinning drill that lights up” – Daniel
  • “It was fun to talk about what we learned and made” – Daniel
  • “It was so nice to get this kind of chance to use them” – Saranya
  • “Cubelets are something that you use to make inventions but they’re toys” – Thyra
  • “There’s only one thing that could get you frustrated (actually now that I think about it two things). The first thing is figuring out which one does what. The second thing is recharging the battery, but that’s not the point (right?).” – Breanna
  • “The red ones are like power on” – Johnson
  • “They are all awesome because there are endless possibilities” – Phillip
  • “They are robotic cubes that can light up, drive and make sounds” – Recshana (black cubes)
  • “They all send information” – Ashley
  • “They are like Lego, but they stick together with magnets” – Kate
  • “One of the black cubelets uses light, one is a motor sensor, one is for temperature, one controls the amount of power you’re using (with a knob)” – Kate
  • “I made a tank that looks like a dog” – Jules
  • “The problem is there’s only one battery” – Bezawit

The next step was to share their ideas. I set up a writing chain. Each student
had a piece of paper. He/she wrote his best idea on the top and passed it to the
next student. That student would add his/her best ides to the sheet and pass it
to the next student. And so on. In fifteen minutes the whole class had 25 really
good words, sentences on a piece of paper. This acted as an efficient brainstorming
session for the students.

Finally, students had to synthesize as many of those ideas as possible to write
about their Cubelets experience.

Looking at their writing and hearing their conversations while they worked with
the Cubelets was a fantastic experience. Students would have arguments about how
to improve how a creation worked. One group of boys was even able to create a
vehicle that used a motion sensor to steer their craft. As they worked, they kept
saying things like “this isn’t working because…” “we need to try….” this kind
of problem solving is difficult to create in an authentic way. Yet, Cubelets did it.
They made students think on a very deep level. The cubes forced them to analyze,
diagnose, fix and understand.

Such a wonderful experience. Thank you.

This is Stepans second post check out:
Cubelets and Inquiry Based Learning by Stepan Pruchnicky

Editors note:
Thank you to Stepan and all the students in the class for sharing your
Cubelets experience with us. This is exactly why I started the Cubelets
Competition. I am thrilled that the students liked it and that great
teachers like Stepan thinks they help children learn! The competition
is still open, and an expansion of this program is on the way, so if
you are a teacher or would like to get involved, do not hesitate to get
in touch! And, although I like the notion of a writing assignment as
payment, the loan of the Cubelets in this competition is absolutely free! :-)

This post is the first winner in The Flexibility Envelope’s Spectacular Cubelets Competition
Check out the competition to win free tinkering time with the Cubelets and soon other Modular robotics systems!

This is a guest post by an external writer. For more guest posts and how you can contribute,
check out the guest posts page.

Running the Mobot remotely

Recently I did something really cool!

A screen capture of me runing the Mobot over G+

I operated Barbo INC’s Mobot remotely over the Internet! The prototype UI was simple but it worked great.

I have always thought that beeing able to operate modular robots remotely would be a great thing (especially the Self […]

Today, an investment of $3 million in Modular Robotics LLC was announced by Brad Feld of The Foundry Group and Bullet Time Ventures

The Cubelets

I think that it is great that venture capitalists are appearing more in the robotics field and even more cool that they dare to venture into modular robotics where the direct application is hard to see.

It is, I would say, rather hard to explain what can be done with a (self-reconfiguring) […]

The Mobot is coming to Hope Number Nine


I am bringing three Mobot modules from Barobo to Hope Number Nine, from 13th to 15th of July at Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC, thanks Graham for lending them.

So either swing by my presentation, comment below or tweet me @Perblog, if you want to see them!


I am proud to announce that I am speaking at Hope Number Nine in New York City

My talk is on the Friday July 13, at 22:00 in the Nutt room on the 18th floor of Hotel Pennsylvania

This is what EFF has to say about HOPE Number Nine:

“Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE), one of the most creative and diverse hacker events in the world. HOPE Number Nine will be taking […]

Cubelets and Inquiry Based Learning by Stepan Pruchnicky, The first FE Contest Winner Post

This is a guest post

Update: Check out Stepan second post with his and the students Cubelets experiences Students love the Cubelets

Elementary school learning is a messy thing. It’s loud and it involves a lot of hands-on, exploratory, cooperative learning. Kids like building, taking apart and re-building. In my grade five class, I have […]