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Roombots Are Real-Life Transformers That Become Furniture [Video]

Miniature robotic modules of the future could reconfigure themselves into whatever furniture you like.

Roombots Are Real-Life Transformers That Become Furniture [Video]

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Why buy multiple pieces of furniture, when you could have one piece of furniture that could transform itself into whatever you need at the moment–a chair, a sofa, a table? For that matter, why settle for static, inanimate furniture at all? This is the idea behind “Roombots,” miniature modular robots that are something like Legos — except they’re also autonomous, and can walk around.

[A concept video the Roombots assembling into a chair. Voltron, unite!]

[The working prototypes of the Roombots]

The Roombots has been in the lab since 2006, and the scientists working on it have penned articles with frightening titles such as “Toward Emancipation of Furniture,” since 2006 or so. But recently, as the biorobotics laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (better know as EPFL) has enlisted more and more researchers to work on the problem, it’s begun to tackle new, weird questions.

As the little modules hook into each other to create novel shapes, those shapes should learn how to find the most efficient way to walk or wriggle along, for instance. It’s a line of research that has led one student to make surreal animation of a trotting table–part pet, part furniture.

[Sweet Jesus: A table that runs.]

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When you don’t need anything to sit on, the bots would be able to configure themselves into something obscure over in the corner, like a box. And if you have a falling out with your roommate, you could even have them transform into a wall.

The Roombots are part of a larger trend in robotics of robot swarms, the notion that many miniature robots could be more powerful than just a few big ones. Recently, the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP lab demonstrated that small robot quadrocopters could team up to construct the frame of a building. If robots are going to building our homes and decorating our interiors, let’s hope they have good taste.

Roombots-1

Roombots-2

[Via IEEE Spectrum]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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