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We have presented a detailed retrospective on modular robots and discussed connections between modular robots and programmable matter. This field has seen a great deal of creativity and innovation at the level of designing physical systems capable of matching shape to function and algorithms that achieve this capability. The success of these projects rests on the convergence of innovation in hardware design and materials for creating the basic building blocks, information distribution for programming the interaction between the blocks, and control. Most current systems have dimensions on the order of centimeters, yet pack computation, communication, sensing, and power transfer capabilities into their form factors. Additionally, these modules operate using distributed algorithms that use a modules ability to observe its current neighborhood and local rules to decide what to do next.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2010