In science fiction, Transformers are always giant structures, usually cool cars, big trucks, and generally the kind of shiny, manly, impractical machines that appeal to kids of all ages. But in reality, they’re not going to be feuding alien robots descended from a toy line who befriend Shia LeBeouf. No. In reality, they just might be shape-shifting modular furniture.At least, if the scientists from the Biorobotics Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland have their way.
Since 2006 the Biorobotics Laboratory has been researching how to develop robots that self-assemble, self-repair, and self-reconfigure. Apparently the best way to do this is modular robots (i.e. Transformers), because they can detach and re-attach to create different structures. The scientists’ first goal is to turn these modular machines into furniture. So after you’ve sat down at the dinner table, you’ll get up and so will your seat, waddling off to become a side table over near your couch (which will later become your bed), like something from a futuristic Fantasia (soundtracking it with Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is optional). Above is a bizarre simulation of what they might look like.
Renders of what roombot furniture may look like. First a computer desk.
And the all important coffee table, no doubt complete with a glossy book atop about the set designs of Blade Runner.
These small modular robots, or roombots, are not as stiff as the more monolithic kind and so are more adaptable, with connectors that allow them to break apart and reconnect without destroying any electronics, so they can create beds, couches, chairs, tables and when not in use they can form a wall or storage spaces. So instead of having lots of pieces of different furniture, you’ll just have a few, which transform when not in use. You can be forgiven for thinking it all sounds a bit weird, autonomous furniture is not something that rests easy with the mind. Stools that shuffle across your carpet would not only scare the cat, they’d upset visiting relatives too. And if you think this is freaky, just wait until robotics reaches sufficient levels of artificial intelligence where you’ll start conversing with your couch about what a bummer of a day you’ve had.