This shape-changing soft robot can be a phone, a wristwatch, a keyboard, a lamp and more.
When it comes to today’s mobile devices, the touchscreen has increasingly become one of the most common ways that we interact with our gadgetry. From our smartphones to our in-car infotainment systems to our computers, seemingly everything has a touch display. However, one team from MIT’s Tangible Media Group wants to change that.
The researchers have developed a shape-shifting, snake-like soft robot built from actuated curve interfaces that can transform into pretty much anything — from a phone, to a wristwatch, to a lamp, to a cable, to an exoskeleton. The project, called LineFORM, is comprised of several small servo motors controlled by an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560), which are covered by a black spandex skin embedded with pressure sensors. The linear set of motors can move either together with the others or independently to create all sorts of shapes for various applications in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, the system is connected to a MacBook running custom programs written in Processing.
The hope is that LineFORM will open up new ways to engage with technology. According to the team, “We envisage LineFORM-style devices coupled with flexible displays as next generation mobile devices, which can display complex information, provide affordances on demand for different tasks, and constrain user interaction.”
For example, LineFORM can be worn around your wrist and give you a tap when an appointment is approaching, and then curl up into a touch-sensitive keypad. It can wiggle and vibrate whenever you receive a text message. It can twist into an assortment of shapes and be employed as a “dynamic ruler” for drafting and drawing. It can wrap around your limps like bandages and act like a robotic exoskeleton, while also recording motion and replaying it back on your body. What’s more, a light module enables it to magically turn into tabletop lamp for reading.
Although still a proof-of-concept, LineFORM boasts endless possibilities, and who knows, may one day be the single replacement for the dozens of electronics we use everyday for countless things. Intrigued? Check out the project’s paper here, or just watch it in action below!