If you’re tired of the way your living room furniture is laid out, or you’re expecting guests and need an extra bed in the spare room, why not simply command your furniture to reassemble for you? This may sound impossible, but Swiss creative roboticist Auke Jan Ijspeert has been working on a project at the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne to create modular robots that can do just that.

Known as Roombots, Ijspeert’s modular robots are something like roboticized LEGO bricks. Rather than building each robot from scratch, Roombots are created as modules, which each have built-in mechanisms and the ability to move and sense things. This means they can assemble themselves into different robots.

Roombots are based on principles inspired by biology: building blocks of life leading to mutations that produce whole, functional modules, such as an insect’s antenna, which developed as a mutation of a two-legged body segment. In a similar way, Roombots can adapt to your needs in ways that are beyond the capabilities of conventional furniture.

In the future, Roombots may be the only furniture you’ll ever need. The small modules move around and hook onto each other by means of connectors to reconfigure into new shapes and even self-repair. In this way, a stool could become a chair, a bed or a table. These devices could minimalize the amount of furniture you need and cut down on living space.

There are many uses for self-adapting furniture including programmable hotels or conference rooms, elements for space stations and interactive works of art. Roombots could also be used to create assistive furniture to help the elderly or people with physical disabilities. In these cases, Roombots may be able to interact with users to monitor their health, help prevent a fall or move objects closer as needed.

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