RoomBots, commonly referred to as modular robots, are of crucial importance in terms of moveable furniture. These robots can self-assemble due to the simple robotic modules that they incorporate in large numbers. It is because of these simple modules that RoomBots can attach with ease and detach with minimum effort.

What’s more? RoomBots consist of connectors placed in the middle of every unit, enabling the robot to change its structure.

Considering this, EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory has researchers who are conducting experiments on the RoomBots to execute swarm transformations. Professor Auke Ijspeert took charge of the team and led them to understand how these robots interact with furniture. The team of experts is seeking to give the RoomBots new capabilities which will enable them to shape into chairs, tables, and many more.

These are not just any ordinary pieces of furniture. The moveable chairs and tables can follow people on their own and pick up dropped objects as well. RoomBots currently weighs about 1.4 kilograms and incorporates three constant rotational degrees of freedom. They further consist of about ten connection ports, active or passive ones, and use Bluetooth as their primary communication channel.

RoomBots Robotic Modules

RoomBots miniature is a perfect size since it is quite a challenge to develop a tinier robot. However, if RoomBots could be made tinier, researchers and developers would proceed with it because it is preferable to include similar functionalities in a smaller size. The developers did consider this, but their primary motive was to ensure that RoomBots possess flexibility inside its modules to incorporate more features accordingly.

RoomBots robotic modules

On the other hand, even though large robots are easier to develop, this size solely depends on the application of the robot. Since RoomBots main application is furniture, a larger module would be quite convenient and practical. Regardless, with an increase in size comes an increase in expenditure, along with more safety protocols to follow. Similarly, it is difficult to conduct experiments within the lab on large modules.

The above explanation concludes why RoomBots current size is its ideal size. Even though it is considered big, the size is perfect for including batteries and motors.

RoomBots can self-assemble

Keeping this in mind, let’s go through these robots’ hardware capabilities. As mentioned earlier, these modular robots can self-assemble, taking the shape of a chair or a table. While a RoomBots-enhanced chair can follow the user, RoomBots can reconfigure into tables as well on their own.

RoomBots can move furnitures

With the help of proximity sensors, a ceiling-mounted Kinect, and a computer, a RoomBots-enhanced chair moves behind a user wherever it goes. The chair will simply keep following you at a steady pace. Once it is close enough, the chair will stay still so that it doesn’t move when the user wishes to take a seat.

Slope Compensation

Similarly, the self reconfigured RoomBots table can execute slope compensation. By being controlled manually, the RoomBots-enhanced table desperately requires compensation to make sure that the objects placed on the table don’t fall. When the RoomBots robot is in motion, objects on the table will stay steady if it incorporates compensation.

Let’s understand this better with an example. If fruits are placed on the table and compensation is absent, the fruits will fall as the table moves and vice-versa. RoomBots are also able to climb stairs due to the compensation incorporated.

RoomBots Gripper Modules

If the RoomBots table possesses a gripper meta-module, it can pick up a pen off the floor and place it on the table. Regardless of whether the pen is placed horizontally or vertically, the gripper meta-module will pick the pen up. Moreover, if there are two gripper modules, the RoomBots can pass the pen. One of the gripper meta-modules will pick up the pen and pass it to the other.

A gripper meta-module can also open a PET bottle. If we take a PET bottle near the gripper meta-module, it will come closer to grip the bottle cap, twist, open the bottle, take the cap, and gently place it on the table. A blend of motion primitives along with user control can make it work even perfectly.

A meta-module can also follow the movement of a hand with the help of proximity sensors. If you are near the meta-module, the meta-module will track and mimic whatever hand actions you do. If you move your hand up, it will move up, and if you move your hand to the side, it will move to the side and continue to follow your hand’s movement accordingly.

LEDs and spotlights

The meta-module has LED lights which illuminates the surrounding in colors like blue, green, red, and many more. It further has spotlight capabilities from which it shoots beams of light like a disco ball and can also have light blinking on and off constantly.

Developers usually expect every robot to possess the capability to manipulate objects to alter the environment. However, researchers specifically created RoomBots to ensure they can do everything, manipulation being a crucial factor here.

EPFL’s Project Objectives

While experimenting with RoomBots at the EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory, researchers and developers are directing their efforts towards four primary objectives. These include enhancing RoomBots’ hardware modules, governing RoomBots locomotion, taking control of the robot’s self-reconfiguration along with the robot-user interface.

RoomBots Robotic Modules hardware

Researchers consider the development of RoomBots’ prototypes as the very first objective. Every module will be incorporating its controller and battery along with customized actuated joints. Moreover, it is possible for the modules to quickly attach and detach from each other because of the mechanical connectors. The team is further prioritizing a multitude of sensing and communication alternatives as well.

Regulating self-reconfiguration

Developing Self-configuration algorithms is another primary objective for converting one structure into another, which is achieved with the help of sequenced motor actions. The experts are dedicating their time and resources to form planning algorithms. These algorithms, unlike any ordinary algorithm, will employ metrics. This is how RoomBots can detect structures around them and measure distances accordingly.

Robot-user interface

With the help of a robot-user interface, people will be able to control, regulate, and educate many modules. Researchers are seeking to make human interactions simple to follow without requiring to program. At the moment, the researchers are looking for a solution that can blend gesture recognition on iPads with the help of AR and Kinects.

Roombots’ multi-unit movement

The team is further working towards adaptively forming novel approaches in terms of the Roombots’ movement. This is specifically meant for RoomBots multi-unit structures. The researchers believe that with the help of controllers, the robot will grasp efficient ways to move and locomote.

The application of RoomBots in today’s world

There are many ways RoomBots can be applied in today’s world, one of the primary uses being assistive furniture. Researchers and developers focus on introducing assistive furniture that can assist the elderly and help the differently-abled people if they fall, assist them while changing positions, and monitor their health. It can be a wheelchair that moves on RoomBots or any other furniture consisting of a motor handicap, interactive art, and many more.

With the RoomBot-enhanced table discussed earlier, furniture can easily manipulate objects and move them around according to the user’s requirement.

Besides assistive robotic furniture, RoomBots can be applicable in the following manner:

  • The robots can incorporate reconfigurable technology for space on a satellite
  • Reconfigurable factory lines
  • Interactive art
  • Edutainment

Assistive furniture can be a game-changer because it can impact our daily lives. If you are amongst those people who reside in small apartments, RoomBots will come in handy since these robots possess the ability to manipulate objects and transform them accordingly.