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Photos: Robotic Furniture Morphs into Cool Shapes

'Roombots'

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

A group of scientists in Switzerland is developing small robotic modules, called "roombots," which fit together like LEGO bricks to form structures that can fit together and morph into different shapes.

Robot Modules

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

Each roombot (not to be confused with the robot vacuum cleaner Roomba) is a completely independent unit — a 9-inch-long (22 centimeters) block that resembles a pair of dice joined together. It contains a battery and three small motors that allow it to move in three different dimensions, and has a set of retractable claws so it can hook onto other blocks to create bigger structures or onto connectors in its environment.

Roving Furniture

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

The idea of roving furniture may be somewhat disconcerting, but the researchers envision them being used to provide assistance to elderly or disabled people.

Assisting the Elderly

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

The bots could move table and chairs around a room, and could be especially helpful to disabled or elderly people, by bring objects closer or moving them out of the way, the researchers said.

Self-Assembling Structures

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

The team is now experimenting with different ways of controlling the furniture, using tablet computer, or speech or gesture recognition.

Robot Helpers

robot furniture

(Image credit: ©EPFL)

The robots are still just a prototype — they might be available within about 20 years, the researchers estimated. The group is planning a newer generation of roombots for assisted living environments, which could actually interact with people.

Tanya Lewis
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.