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Watch MIT’s nifty shape-shifting bot transform into all manner of gadgets

It might look a bit unwieldy in its current form, but this awesome shape-shifting robot could one day be your all-in-one everything, a kind of high-tech Swiss knife able to quickly transform itself into all manner of gadgets and gizmos to fulfill your every need.  If nothing else, it’d be great to pull out at parties.

Created by the clever folks at MIT’s Media Lab, “LineForm” is a snake-like robot capable of blending flexibility with rigidity. It consists of a series of servo motors with integrated sensors for direct manipulation, and as the video above shows, can quickly transform itself into different shapes offering a variety of possibilities for the user.

Check out how it automatically envelops the user’s wrist to become a smartband, unraveling slightly to send an alert via a little tap. The video then shows it morph into a touchpad (for dialing a number) before changing again into an old-style phone receiver to make the call.

The team also demonstrates in the video how the highly versatile device can act as an intelligent cable, and is able to recognize connected modules. Stick a bulb on the end, for example, and it automatically shifts its shape into a lamp stand, with the light’s intensity controlled by another part of the cable that’s formed into a handle-like dimmer switch.

And how about using the bendable bot as a fitness tool? Yes, this is where things get interesting with LineForm. Its strength and flexibility means it can wrap around, say, your arm and stiffen to give your muscles a workout. It can even memorize movements, allowing it to be used as a training device. So say someone wants to teach a particular physical task requiring a specific set of movements, LineForm will remember the task and repeat it on the arm of a student, allowing them to more easily understand what’s required.

Sure, it’s early days for LineForm, but even at this stage its functionality is very impressive.

Amusingly, the LineForm team said that in live demonstrations with members of the public, its device had a tendency to “startle users when it quickly changes form,” a factor it describes as a limitation.

As for the future, its creators say they “envisage LineForm-style devices coupled with flexible displays as next-generation mobile devices, which can display complex information, provide affordances on demand for different tasks, and constrain user interaction.”

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