At The Tokyo User Interface Software and Technology Symposium on Monday, researchers from MIT and Stanford debuted their teeniest robots to date. Dubbed “Rovables,” the miniature bots can move freely on any set of clothing, using magnetic wheels to move vertically. You might be asking, “why, though?”
Rovables would offer a futuristic alternative to current wearables that are often limited by form — the same components that make up your smartwatch or fitness tracker could suddenly transform into a light for your bike, or screen to watch Youtube videos on the subway.
The multi-purpose robots come equipped with a built-in battery and microcontroller, and can be moved using wireless communications. Inspired by ubiquitous computing, where technologies disappear into the background when not in use, the Rovables will be able to configure and scatter based on the needs of the user.
The robots also come with low-power localizations systems that allow the machines to move autonomously. Researchers have found that the Rovables can operate continuously for 45 minutes, and they charge wirelessly.
“Though vertical climbing robots have been demonstrated in the robotics field, they are often limited to specific materials, and they have not spread into other fields such as Human-Computer Interaction, due to specialized technologies,” researchers stated in a paper presented at the event.
But there are still kinks that need to be ironed out before the crawlers are ready to take your outfit from CrossFit to an elegant evening out, in a few quick movements. Researchers have come up with an algorithm to allow the robots to navigate 3-D spaces, but the micro-controller for the Rovables doesn’t have enough processing power to compute it.
While the researchers are hazy on an exact timeline for the release of the product, their paper suggests a future of “swarms of fingernail-sized robots moving autonomously around the clothing.” In other words, better get over your heebie jeebies now.