We might not be waiting for too much longer, either, since a delegation of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford showed off their collection of miniature on-body robots at a recent tech conference in Tokyo.
“We introduce Rovables, a miniature robot that can move freely on unmodified clothing,” the researchers note in their paper. “The robots are held in place by magnetic wheels, and can climb vertically. The robots are untethered and have an onboard battery, microcontroller, and wireless communications. They also contain a low-power localization system that uses wheel encoders and [inertial measurement units], allowing Rovables to perform limited autonomous navigation on the body.”
The $1 million question, of course, is what they are going to be used for.
According to the researchers, there are a few possible use-cases. For example, they could crawl out of your pocket and assemble on your arm to create a temporary display while you are en route to work. In another use-case, they could form a makeshift safety light while you are riding a bicycle at night. In others, they could carry out on-body sensing, provide tactile feedback, or serve as interactive clothing and jewelry.
They could even lurk out of sight and then terrorize unsuspecting co-workers on your instructions. OK, so the researchers did not come up with that last use-case!
Ultimately, at present, the Rovables are more an impressive tech demo than anything else. Able to operate continuously for 45 minutes — or considerably longer if they are not moving all the time — they hint at a possible future for wearable devices, in which said wearables are not limited to being strapped to one part of our body.
Just so long as they stay on our side, we are happy for them to exist. Because otherwise this sounds like the start of a Michael Crichton novel.