Skip to main content

Roombots: Scientists develop robots that can form different types of furniture

roombots scientists develop robots can form different types furniture
(Biorobotics Laboratory, EPFL)

Are you ever at home and think to yourself you could really use another table right about now?  Soon, such an out-of-the-box wish may be at your command.

A team of Swiss researchers from Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob) at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed novel modular robots called Roombots, which can form any type of furniture at the drop of a hat.  The Lego-like robotic blocks move on their own and “stick” together, creating various structural shapes.

According to the researchers, they hope that one day, the Roombots will autonomously connect together to form everything from stools and chairs to sofas and tables.

“The idea of different units that self-assemble and change morphology has been around for quite a while, but nobody came up with a good idea for how to use them,” lead researcher Massimo Vespignani, an engineer at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, told LiveScience. Vespignani also co-authored an article on the research to be published in the July issue of the journal Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

Each Roombot is a 9-inch long block that contains a battery, an antenna, and three separate motors, which allow the module to move in three different dimensions and change its shape.  The blocks also house active connectors that can grip other modules and pieces of furniture, forming multiple types of structural configurations.  When strung together, the modules resemble a long robotic centipede.

The Roombots still have a long way to go before they can be available for public use, as the researchers still haven’t come up with a way for people to control them, and their current design cannot support a person’s weight.  But the scientists envision their modules being used for a number of applications, such as programmable conference rooms, satellite or space station elements, or assistive furniture for the elderly.

Editors' Recommendations

Loren Grush
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Loren Grush is a science and health writer living in New York City, having written for Fox News Health, Fox News SciTech and…
Self-assembling microrobots can be programmed to form a tiny steerable car
self assembling micro robot tiny car screen shot 2019 06 25 at 17 24 20

It’s easy to think that the world’s most exciting robots are those that exist on the larger end of the size spectrum, whether it’s humanoid robots created by Boston Dynamics or even larger mech-inspired robots. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems think differently, however.

They’ve developed a new way of controlling self-assembling mobile micromachines. It allows tiny micromachines of different designs to be programmed to assemble in different formations. Remember the way that different “Zords” in Power Rangers joined to together to form a larger Megazord? It's basically that -- only with self-assembling robots between 40 to 50 micro meters in size. That’s around half the diameter of a single human hair.

Read more
Hide the cheese: scientists just created supermice that can see in infrared
mice vision infrared nanoparticles mouse 1708347 1920

We humans can only see a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that we dub visible light, although other creatures can perceive more of the spectrum, like birds which can see ultraviolet light and snakes which can detect infrared radiation. We can see in infrared through the use of tools like night vision goggles (or to give them their more accurate name, thermal imaging cameras) but now scientists have achieved something far more impressive and frankly terrifying: they have used nanotechnology to give mice infrared vision.

The scientists, who are apparently unafraid of a super-rodent uprising, injected mice with nanoparticles that gave the creatures infrared vision for up to 10 weeks from just one treatment. The mice could see the visible spectrum as normal but got the bonus of infrared vision as well, with enough accuracy that they could distinguish between different shapes using infrared.

Read more
MIT’s new robot can play everyone’s favorite block-stacking game, Jenga
mit jenga playing robot 0

MIT Robot Learns How to Play Jenga

Not content with getting freakishly good at cerebral games like chess and Go, it seems that artificial intelligence is now coming for the kind of fun games we played as kids (and childish adults). With that in mind, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a robot which uses the latest machine learning computer vision to play everyone’s favorite tower-toppling game Jenga.

Read more