Cubes aren't usually the go-to shape when creating an object that's meant to move around, but researchers in Switzerland have created one that can do just that — along with a handful of other surprising talents. Called the Cubli, it measures nearly 6 inches on each side and can walk around by continually flipping itself over. Perhaps more impressively, it can also balance on any of its sides or even just a single corner. As the research team from ETH Zurich's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control demonstrates in a video, the cube can even remain balanced while a surface is raised up at an angle beneath it.
Similar to how satellites are stabilized in space
Though it's a moving cube, the Cubli still relies on a series of spinning wheels to get going. Three internal wheels angled along a different axis each will spin faster or slower in order to maintain enough momentum to keep the cube balanced. By quickly halting a spinning wheel, the cube can also be caused to flip over, effectively allowing it to move around. The researchers say that Cubli's system of spinning wheels is similar to what stabilizes satellites out in space, and that other research groups have considered using this technology to build robots that could be used to explore other planets.
A separate group of researchers at MIT demonstrated another use for blocks like this back in October: allowing a basic robot to reassemble itself. MIT's cubes had magnets embedded across their sides and edges, which let them grip each other and form different shapes. Though they weren't able to balance like the Cubli can, MIT's "M-blocks" could move much farther — actually hopping off the ground when getting around.