MIT Shapeshifting Robot Grabs and Hugs

A phone, a computer, a flashlight and more—happily wrapped around you.

Nakagaki Ken (MIT)

The LineFORM is a shape-shifting robot that might one day provide several functions for its owners—that is, if future owners are OK with its wiggly ways.

LineFORM already exists, albeit currently only in prototype form. Looking somewhat like a worm or snake, it’s covered in black spandex and embedded with touch sensors. Containing dozens of small servo motors, it can change shape in seconds.

Detailed in a paper by Hiroshi Ishii, Ken Nakagaki, and Sean Follmer of the MIT Media Lab, the creation can “physically display expressive 2D and 3D shapes, both for information representation and for dynamic affordances,” as well as “direct deformation and touch…provide haptic feedback through variable stiffness joints to enable such interactions as physical snap to grid” and also act as a “constraint for the user’s motion or the motion of other objects to guide user actions.”

To think of practical applications, one must only think of a needed accessory or device—as LineFORM can become a watch, a phone, a tablet, charging cable, and flashlight—while taking on the shapes these items typically employ.

Additionally, due to its mobility, it can shake, vibrate or even tap its owner in order to notify or relay information—and furthermore, it can model geometry, taking on 3D shapes.

The MIT paper does mention that the “LineFORM can startle users when it quickly changes form.” Then again, if your current cell phone suddenly starts wrapping around your arm to tell you about a text, it could be certainly be intimidating at first.