Roombots can latch onto or release other modules to create pieces as needed.
Researchers from the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed robotic modules that can move and change shape to transform into different types of furniture as required by the user.
Roombots are modular pieces that can be stacked together to create different kinds of structures. The Roombots can release or latch onto other pieces to create different structures like a bench or a table. Auke Ijspeert, head of the BIOROB, said that eventually, all users will need to do in the future is configure the layout of a room and let the robotic modules change their own configuration to fit the room.
A Roombot piece is 22 cm long and looks like two large dice connected to each other. Each piece has a wireless battery, a wireless connection, and three motors that let it pivot with three degrees of freedom. The modules attach to other pieces through claws that come out and retract so they can latch on to other pieces. The modules also rotate in different ways to change shape and become bigger structures.
The research team created a special kind of surface which serves as an anchor for the Roombots so they can transform into what their users need them to change to. The special surface has holes that are designed to fit with the mechanical claws of the Roombots. The special surface serves as the interface between the robotic modules and its environment. Users can affix the special surface to the walls, the floor, or to the existing furniture in their place to allow the Roombots to move along the walls or attach themselves to non-robotic objects in the room and transform into tables or chairs that are mobile.
Ijspeert explained, “In order to keep costs down and ensure solidity, we have prioritized the construction of hybrid furniture, in other words, objects made up of both robotic modules and solid “passive” elements.”
He also added that the Roombots concept could be very useful to disabled individuals who need objects to come closer to them or move out of their way.
The research team has issued a challenge to other researchers to come up with potential applications for the robotic modules. Students from ENSCI Les Ateliers have come up with concepts for the Roombots, including flower pots that move from window to window around the outside of a building and modular lighting components and sound systems.
The Roombots project was discussed in an article on the online version of the journal Robotics and Autonomous Systems.
Watch the video below for more about the Roombots.