'Assembler Robots' Could Someday Build Airplanes, Bridges, and Space Settlements

Commercial aircraft are typically manufactured in sections, often in different locations, and then flown to a central plant in cargo planes for final assembly. Researchers at MIT are hoping to change that. They see the whole plane being built in one assembly out of an array of small identical pieces, all put together by a team of robots. The researchers have created prototype versions of robots that can assemble small structures and work together as a team to build larger assemblies. The team's underlying vision is that almost any physical object can be recreated as an array of smaller three-dimensional pieces, or voxels, which can be made up of simple struts and nodes. The team has shown that these simple components can be arranged to distribute loads efficiently. The units can be picked up and placed in position next to one another by the simple assemblers, and then fastened together using latching systems built into each voxel. The robots themselves are simple devices that move around like inchworms.