Roving robots roam your clothes

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A couple of Rovables make their way along a sleeve(Credit: ACM SIGCHI)

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If you don't like the thought of bugs crawling all over you, then you might not like one possible direction in which the field of wearable electronics is heading. Researchers from MIT and Stanford University recently showcased their new Rovables robots, which are tiny devices that roam up and down a person's clothing – and yes, that's as the clothing is being worn.

The centimeter-sized robots hang on by pinching the fabric between their wheels, with the physically-unconnected wheel on the underside of the material held against the others simply by magnetic attraction.

Each Rovable contains a battery, microcontroller, and a wireless communications module that lets it track the movements and locations of its fellow little robots. It also has an inertial measurement unit (IMU), which includes a gyroscope and accelerometer. By using that IMU and by counting its wheel revolutions, the robot is able to keep track of its own location, allowing for limited autonomous navigation on the wearer's body.

In lab tests, one battery was sufficient for up to 45 minutes of continuous clothes-roaming.

Once the technology is developed further, suggested applications for it include interactive clothing/jewellery, tactile feedback systems, and changeable modular displays such as name tags.

The Rovables were recently described at the User Interface Software and Technology Symposium, and can be seen in action in the video below.

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