Snake-Like Robot from MIT Is Flexible, Customizable


ChainFORM - Short ver. from Tangible Media Group on Vimeo.

Who says hardware has to take on a standard, fixed shape? Last year, a team of engineers at MIT's Tangible Media Group developed a flexible, snake-like robot they dubbed the LineFORM. LineFORM has since evolved into the expandable ChainFORM, which users can now build on using modular links. The innovation is part of an effort to re-imagine computer hardware as something that can change its shape and function according to your needs, according to a report by FastCo.Design.

Created by Ken Nakagaki and Artem Dementyev, ChainFORM is computer and robotics hardware that can theoretically transform into a number of system’s peripherals. Each “block” uses a series of integrated sensors, touch detection, motor actuators, and a low-res display, which are then linked together to be customizable and adaptable on a whim.

Nakagaki and Dementyev believe their system can serve as an ever-changing and expandable computer and mobile device accessory, as well as a tool that can be used in simple robotics. ChainFORM’s small “blocks” are linked and connected to bend and twist into computer inputs, such as a mouse, keyboard, or phone headset; a mobile accessory like a tablet pen; or a tech wearable like a fitness tracker, wristwatch, or even an exoskeleton. The device also uses robotic technology to capture and recreate motion.

ChainFORM's creators certainly aren't the first to have engineered a snake-like robot. Others, including teams from Carnegie Mellon and Virginia Tech, have modeled their bots' movements after the reptiles, hoping they'll someday be able to scale surfaces no human could, during construction inspections or search and rescue missions.  

The MIT creation is currently in the prototype stage, and can only support 33 building blocks. However, it's likely subsequent upgrades will let users expand it as they see fit. The only limit? Their imaginations.

[h/t Fast Co. Design]