PORTLAND, Ore. -- In what the lead researcher calls a "crazy" project conjoins dual round robots with three degrees-of-freedom--called Roombots -- which self-assemble into the type of furniture of your choice. Conceived at the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL -- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne), Roombots serve as a testbed for modular robots that use retractable grippers to join together for different tasks.
"The Roombots project is a bit of a crazy project where we like to use the concept of modular robotics -- little robotic modules -- that we use to make adaptive furniture that changes its shape and functionality over time and can even move," said Auke Ijspeert, head of the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) at EPFL in a video (below)." For instance, it could make stools that can move around in the environment, where it meets another stool and makes a bench. And the bench might later become a table."
EPFL head of its Biorobotics Laboratory, Auke Ijspeert, shows the mobile Roombot, which fits together with other pieces to make adaptive furniture.
Eventually Ijspeert hopes to create a whole family of Roombots and other passive components, such as table tops and room dividers, that enable Roombots to reassemble into anything from a bedroom to a conference room. Inside each Roombot are batteries, motors and a wireless connection so they may communicate directives to reassemble into new configurations.
"So the whole idea is to have furniture that changes functionality completely for the needs of the person," said Ijspeert.
Every Roombot consists of four half spheres about 22 centimeters (8.7 inches) long permanently conjoined at the center with three motors inside. Any Roombot can link to any other Roombot at any of four locations, each equipped with grippers on the flattened sides of each sphere. Grippers can attach to passive components -- like a table top, walls or floors -- or retract to let go. EPFL plans a whole family of active and passive components to create a whole range of adaptive furniture types.
Retractable grippers allow Roombots to self-assemble into different shaped furniture pieces. (Source: EPFL)
"We hope that Roombots will be used for a whole range of applications, but one of the main ones we have in mind is assistive technologies. So for an elderly person or one who cannot move easily it helps the person. That means if it's a table it can approach the person to bring medicine or a glass of water," said Ijspeert. "Globally what we hope to provide is a kind of Lego block that people can use to invent their own use -- that would be my dream -- that people like maybe artists or designers find their own uses and applications."
École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL--Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) scientists are creating futuristic furniture that can move around and autonomously change its shape. This innovation may prove useful to support disabled individuals. (Source: EPF)
Students in the BIOROB lab have already come up with many novel uses, such as flowerpots that follow the sun around the outside of a building, mobile lighting and sound systems that follow their users. Today programming them is difficult, but the lab is working on a tablet-based system where you merely design the layout of the room and an army of Roombots self-organize to realize the design.
Partial funding was provided by the National Centre for Competence in Research Robotics at the the Swiss National Science Foundation (Lausanne Switzerland).
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times