Rovables: Wearable Mini Mobile Robots

Rovables: Wearable Mini Mobile Robots

Oct 23, 2016 @ 16:29 |

These future wearable technology will move around the human body, and will react to its host and the environment

What if wearable devices could move around the body? For example,fingernail-sized robots that could seamlessly assemble into a wristwatch or a nametag.

Current wearable technologies are immobile devices that are worn on the body, such as smart watches (e.g. Pebble, Apple Watch), head-mounted displays (e.g. Google Glass), and fitness trackers (e.g. FitBit). Now researchers from MIT and Stanford have developed a mobile wearable device, Rovables – A Wearable Mini Mobile Robot. These future wearable technology will move around the human body, and will react to its host and the environment.

Potential Applications:  On-body sensing, modular displays, tactile feedback and interactive clothing and jewelrymobile-jwallarynametag


At 29th Annual Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, MIT and Stanford researchers introduced Rovables, a miniature robot that can move freely on unmodified clothing.

Picture of the electronics and sensors. a) Top view. Custom designed circuit board is visible on the top. Infrared encoders are placed on left and right wheels. The expansion port on the top is used to add more functionality. b) Side view. As visible in this view, the battery is sandwiched between the motors and the circuit board.

The Rovables robots are held in place by magnetic wheels, and can climb vertically. The robots are un-tethered and have an onboard battery, microcontroller, and wireless communications. Rovables also contain a low-power localization system that uses wheel encoders and IMU, allowing them to perform limited autonomous navigation on the body.

Rovables can operate continuously for 45 minutes and can carry up to 1.5N.

What is unique in Rovables?

Locomotion: Magnet-based locomotion system is one of the uniqueness of Rovables, which allows the robot to move freely on cloths. This robot uses magnet wheels to grip between the fabrics.


Illustration of the magnetic drive system. a) The fabric is held between the top two wheels and magnetic rod on the other side. All the wheels are circular neodymium magnets. The reflective pattern on the wheels is used for the infrared encoder. b) Underside view of the chassis, with the fabric, removed. Two motors are visible in this view.

Different locomotion method required for real usability:  Currently, Rovables require a magnet on the back of the fabric. This limits the thickness of the fabric and can create a sensation from the magnet moving against the skin. So a different locomotion method requires that does not use back side of fabric. For example, using biologically inspired burr-like materials on the wheels.

Navigation in 3D space: To be practical, wearable mobile robots will require accurate navigation in 3D space. In this paper, researchers developed and presented limited navigation on planar sheets of fabric.

Challenge for improvement

The most difficult problems are finding the right locomotion mechanism and autonomous navigation in 3D space with such small compute power.

  • Keywords: Rovables, wearable devices, localization system, Magnet-based locomotion

  • Reference: Rovables: Miniature On-Body Robots as Mobile Wearables, Annual Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. 0.1145/2984511.2984531
  • Image: all images have taken from paper.

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