Get ready for self-constructing, shape shifting, moving-on-command furniture — or as its creator like to call it, Roombots.
There are a lot of things we imagine our future robot overlords doing. But making, or rather being our furniture is probably not one of them. The kind of robot furnishings researchers at Switzerland-based technical university Ecole Polytechnique Federerale de Lausanne (EPFL) are working on is the stuff of dreams (and maybe a few nightmares).
Roombots are actually robotic modules, roughly 6x6x6 inches and weighing about 3 pounds, that include a few motors for three degrees of movements. They can roll slowly on the ground or use their built-in grip modules to attach themselves to each other or objects like specially-designed table-tops.
According to scientist Auke Ljspeert of the EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory in Switzerland, Roombots can build themselves into adaptive furniture that can change from a chair to, say, a table and even rise up to meet you. This second feature could be especially important, as one of Ljspeert’s goals is to make Roombots an assistive technology. A Roombot table could, for example, twist its legs so it becomes taller and easier to use for someone who has trouble bending down to reach the table top. Alternatively, a Roombot chair could move into place and rise up to help someone sit, instead of that person having to flop down into a tech-free chair.
The robot modules, which communicate via Bluetooth and run for an hour on a charge, can grab each other and, potentially join up in groups to turn a robot chair into a bigger robot bench. They also connect with passive modules, like a tabletop piece or anything else, like a lamp, container or camera, as long as these pieces have special notches to accept the Roombot’s powered grippers. Those same grippers also allow the modules to climb special walls. So, for example, a collection of them could line the walls of a seemingly empty meeting room and just the right number could climb down and combine into a set of self-aware conference table and chairs.
While the video is compelling, researchers have a lot of work do before we see robots tuning into furniture and rushing to offer themselves as a seat. EPFL reports that engineers hope to make the Roombots more practical by speeding up their movements and acknowledge that there’s still much work to be done on the configuration algorithms. Scientists told Mashable that industrial use is 15 years away and it could be two decades before they could be used reliably by every day consumers.
However, if robots can eventually build usable and transmogrifying furniture for us, how long before such modular bots unite to build us homes that we can redesign with little more than an iPhone-based command?
The future of home decorating is going to be wild.