Roombot Swarm Creates On-Demand Mobile Furniture

IEEE Spectrum

For the last decade-ish, EPFL’s Roombots have been modularizing their way towards becoming the only piece of furniture you’ll ever need. These little squarish roundish robotics modules, which can move around and latch onto each other, can collaboratively form chairs, tables, or whatever else you need or want. The idea is that you’d invest in a pile of Roombots, the pile size being proportional to the number of people and animals in your house, and then whatever bits of furniture you desire would be dynamically created (and then “destroyed”) through the intelligent and autonomous cooperation Roombots pile on an as-needed basis.

Roombots are a very compelling idea, especially for those of us who have small apartments. Like, I have a dining room table and four chairs. If I want to have more than a couple people over for dinner, they’d better bring their own chairs, because I don’t have anywhere for them to sit. If my furniture was Roombots, though, my bed could just disassemble itself to make more chairs when I needed them. Or, I could store a bunch of extra Roombot modules in my closet, and bring them out when needed.

In a new Roombots paper, researchers from EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory, led by Professor Auke Ijspeert, have demonstrated some practical (although still very research-y) swarm transformations, while also experimenting with how Roombots can interact with existing furniture to give it new capabilities—chairs that follow you, chairs that flee from you, and tables that can pick objects up off the floor.

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