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A swarm of little robots has become an I / O interface.

Mathieu Le Goc et al., / UIST 2016

A Franco-American group of scientists has developed an I / O interface, which is a swarm of small autonomous robots. The authors presented a report at the UIST 2016 conference in Tokyo, detailed technical information publishedon GitHub.

To interact with modern computers, users tend to use traditional input-output devices: mouse, keyboard and screen. Despite the usual convenience of these tools, they deliberately limit the physical interaction of the user with the computer, so there are various additional commercially available I / O devices, and some research teams are developing fundamentally new interfaces.

Zooids open source project involves the use of a swarm of small autonomous robots as an input / output interface. Robots can be used individually and in groups both as conditional “pixels” that display information, and as an input device – for example, in the form of various “twists” and sliders of various shapes and purposes. At the same time, robots from the same swarm can perform different functions at the same time – for example, if the user draws with the help of a pair of Zooids, the other robots can be used to display the drawn object. Also, computer-controlled robots can be used to move physical objects.

Each robot is a small cylinder with a diameter of 26 millimeters, a height of 21 millimeters and a weight of 12 grams. An electric motor, battery, wheels, control board with a radio module and sensors are installed inside the cylinder. Structurally, robots can move at a speed of 74 centimeters per second, but the speed is artificially limited to 44 centimeters per second for the convenience of working with the system. For navigation, use a special navigation grid, which displays a DLP-projector mounted above the table. The robots determine their own location at a frequency of 73 Hertz on the visible part of the grid and transmit information to the computer that controls the entire system.The development of unusual experimental interfaces is also being carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media lab. Laboratory specialists have developed  a gold-foil tattoo-interface , a touch- sensitive rod table , and a  robosome , which can be used as a wearable mobile phone, a physical display, a touchpad, and for direct transfer of physical movements from person to person.

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