Gadget of the Week: Roombots

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Roombot
The Roombots connect to one another with little claws.

Have you ever wished that your stiff desk chair could morph into a comfy sofa? After all, once you’ve been sitting up straight and studying for hours, it’d be nice to lie down for a nap. Well, the new Roombots being developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology can roll around the room intelligently, and build themselves into new furniture shapes!

“It’s a bit of a science-fiction project in my lab to create intelligent furniture which can change shape and functionality,” says lab director Auke Ijspeert. “We envisage the Roombots moving and combining to create a diversity of elements including tables and chairs.”

How can these roly poly machines shapeshift into different objects? Well, the 22-centimeter-long dice-shaped bots are powered by a battery and use three motors to shuffle about. Then, they can open little claws to grab hold of one another in a strong hug, like super smart building blocks. The self-adjusting Roombots can also merge with regular furniture materials, like cushions and wooden bases to more easily make moldable designs.

Before the high-tech gadgets are used for convenience and comfort, they’ll be programmed to help with elderly and disabled people. “Let’s say an elderly person is using a walker, the furniture could have modules attached for it to move out of the way in a cluttered apartment,” explains Ijspeert, “or have a stool follow the person and remain close by.” Although they’d like the bots to do this unassisted by human beings with computer software, the Roombots will eventually be able to react to humans with embedded cameras and voice recognition.

Images courtesy of Federal Institutes of Technology in Switzerland.