We’re still a long way from owning furniture that transforms as easily as Optimus Prime, but a group of researchers from the Biorobotics Laboratory at École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne are getting closer. The team from the Biorobotics Lab has designed modular robots that can self-assemble and re-configure themselves as different structures depending on what task they need to accomplish.
Called Roombots, these little robots crawl, pivot and climb on top of one another like low tech, real-life transformers. The team hopes that someday, these modular bots will be efficient enough that we’ll be able to use them for shape-shifting furniture—think stools that turn into chairs and chairs that turn into tables.
Each Roombot module measures about 8.6 inches long and are half that width. One module consists of two dice-shaped bots that are connected by three motors—two that run diagonally and one centrally—that allow the bots to pivot in ways that mono-motored, monolithic robots can only dream of. The modules latch to each other via clawlike connectors, while algorithms tell each bot how to move.