Last year, a team of researchers from MIT and Stanford showcased a new direction for wearable electronics in the form of mini-robots called Rovables that could roam over a person's body. Now the team has refined the technology with the launch of Project Kino, a collaborative effort with designers from London's Royal College of Art that explores ways these kinetic wearables could open up new aesthetic and functional clothing possibilities.
These tiny robots can navigate over a person's clothes through a magnetic drive system. The magnet underneath the fabric holds the robot in place regardless of its orientation, while the robot can be controlled either autonomously or externally by the wearer.
The team at Project Kino has been investigating several ways this wearable robotic technology could be applied in both aesthetic and pragmatic applications. From an aesthetic perspective the devices can act as moving jewelry, with several bots moving around a person's body to create different shapes and designs depending on the wearer's preferences.
The bots also can act as pattern-changing devices, shifting around a wearer's chest to create moving geometric effects. Other aesthetic experiments involved etching patterns onto fabrics that leave visible tracks, such as velvet, and creating shape-changing garments that can morph into different forms.
Functionally the robots could also act as on-body microphones or climate-reactive clothing that adapts to the surrounding environment. One of the examples proposed was a robot controlling a scarf or the drawstrings on a hood.
Needless to say, if you have read this far you're probably wondering if anyone actually wants to cover their body with creeping, bug-like robots. The research team wondered that too and conducted a series of interviews with participants newly introduced to the devices.
Unsurprisingly, several participants described the encounter with the bots as "eerie", "creepy", or "foreign" and one of the major outcomes from this initial research was the suggestion that the device needed further miniaturization.
Another interesting suggestion from many participants was that the system could be used as an intimate communication device for connecting with remotely located loved ones. One subject said he would be interested in letting the robot be controlled remotely by someone he has a connection with.
The researcher's conclusions involve further design iterations to make the robots more compact and wearable, but the fundamental question remains – do people want tiny bug-like robots roaming over their bodies?
Take a look at the little bots in action in the video below.
Source: MIT Media Lab - Project Kino
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