Ever stepped into a conference room to make a presentation only to find that there aren’t enough chairs, or even too many tables? You make do, but it’s awkward.

Roombots, a group of shapeshifting modular robots that have been in development since September 2014, handle this problem with ease. They were created to form adaptive furniture, or pieces that can be continually shaped into anything you might want.

Simple and Practical

A small group of Roombots modules clustered together.

Roombots easily attach and detach themselves from one another. They change form and can even move themselves to any location in a room. Not only can a chair become a table, but it can also transform into a stationary structure like a wall or divider. All this is done through robotic self-reconfiguration and assembly.

A group of Roombots work together to move a wooden box.

Over the past five years, Roombots have significantly advanced, and their interior workings have been revamped. They now have an innovative low-backlash gearbox, an upgraded link mechanism, and fresh electronics. On top of that, the latest Roombots also boast gripping capabilities and proximity detectors. Most impressively, the number of dynamic Roombot modules has grown from just two (the bare minimum required to test for docking, undocking, and general movement) to 12, which is sufficient to do significantly more stimulating things.

Vision for the Future

The applications for Roombots are numerous. They could be used as beneficial “assistive” furniture for people with motor disabilities or the elderly, configurable conference room pieces, collaborative space or satellite station essentials, or modular art, among other things.

This 3D rendering shows that enough Roombot modules can be combined to assemble full-sized furniture pieces.

Of course, these bots were mainly designed with the first of those applications in mind. The researchers behind the project envision user-interactive furniture that can help people recover more easily from slips and falls, change positions between laying, sitting, and standing, and automatically move towards or away from another object in the room. All this would be made possible through partnerships with CHILI lab and DomoSafety.

A large desk made from Roombot modules.

All these practical and altruistic applications are amazing, but how could Roombots stand to help out other groups, like the tenants of ultra-cramped apartments? The idea is for everyone to buy a practical number of them based on the size of your family, or enough to create enough furniture pieces when you need them to. You could then, for instance, use Roombots to create enough extra chairs for a dinner party. For a relaxing night of watching movies with friends, just have them transform those chairs into an extra bench or two. If you have enough components, you’ll never run short of essential comforts like these. Best of all, when you don’t need any or all of it, the modules can simply be stored in boxes and stowed in closets, or add another wall to a room that feels too big. Even for larger homes, it’s always nice to have extra seating for guests that doesn’t take up space when it’s not needed.