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Modular Robotics' MOSS Kit Makes Building Robots a Snap

Anyone can build a robot with these modular parts

2 min read
Modular Robotics' MOSS Kit Makes Building Robots a Snap

Building robots is hard. Seriously hard. Not only do you have to construct them physically, but even after you've got them all wired up with motors and sensors and batteries and whatnot, they won't actually DO anything until you've spent most of the rest of your life writing code. It's kind of depressing, when it comes down to it, because for those of us who aren't already professional roboticists, we have to deal with a learning curve like that really steep bit on the north face of the Matterhorn.

Back in 2010, a company called Modular Robotics introduced Cubelets, a system of robotic modules that could be magnetically snapped together. By themselves, the modules didn't do much, but by connecting them, you could build and program a robot at the same time, without any experience whatsoever. Last December, Modular Robotics came out with a slightly different take on this idea with MOSS. MOSS was successfully funded more than three times over on Kickstarter, and earlier this month at CES, we got a hands-on demo of the new kits.

MOSS, fundamentally, is a bunch of these little cubes with rounded corners. The rounded corners are magnetic, and by sticking a little magnetic ball in them, you can attach them to other little cubes with rounded corners. Four magnets makes for a solid connection, but you can use two magnets to create a hinged connection or one magnet to make a ball joint. Cubes that have flat faces that touch can transmit both power and data, so there's no need to wire anything, and the whole shebang can be controlled via Bluetooth from your phone.

As with Cubelets, MOSS cubes come in different colors, and each color does something different. There are cubes for power, communications, sensing, moving, and controlling, plus a bunch of other modules like wheels and braces and connectors. No programming is necessary: snapping cubes together is the same as writing a simple program, so (for example) you can attach a battery cube to a Bluetooth cube, add some wheels and a light sensor, and you can get a little robot that's attracted to light.

Of course, for those of you who want to take MOSS farther, you can absolutely do that. Or at least, you will be able to eventually. Sometime this year, Modular Robotics will be releasing two software tools for MOSS: one will let you reprogram the microcontrollers inside individual blocks in C, and the other should enable the use of a simple programming tool from MIT called Scratch.

MOSS is new enough that you'll still have to pre-order a kit, but delivery has been promised for April of this year, which isn't very long from now at all.

[ MOSS ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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