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Roombots take a 'Transformer' spin on furniture design

Posted: 27 May 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Roombot  furniture  self-assemble  modular robot 

A "crazy" project conceived at the Biorobotics Laboratory (BIOROB) at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL—Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) explores the design and control of modular robots as the basis for furniture that self-assembles, and self-reconfigures according to the type specified by the user.

Dubbed as Roombots, the platform consists of robotic modules with three degrees of freedom motion system, using 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's Auke Ijspeert

Figure 1: EPFL head of its Biorobotics Laboratory, Auke Ijspeert, shows the mobile Roombot, which fits together with other pieces to make adaptive furniture. Source: EPFL

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 22cm long permanently conjoined at the centre 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.


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