"That's innovative," said Bob Kinicki, a computer science professor and an Internet of Things researcher at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. "I hear all kinds of examples of the Internet of Things and this is a new one to me. Obviously it gives you flexibility in how you manage rooms. Being a university, we have that issue. There are advantages if you could move walls and adapt the rooms to your needs."
The UCLA students are using four robots, including two robotic arms that rotate on six axles and can lift up to 300 pounds. They also have two smaller robots with a load capacity of 12 pounds each. The robots are used to enable the students to test their models and move structures.
Koerner said the use for moving, robotic buildings would be as varied as factories, individual homes, hotels and restaurants.
A hotel, for instance, could use modular bathrooms. If a guest requested a bigger bathroom, the current bathroom could be moved out and a bigger one, which moves along the outside of a the building, could be moved in. Instead of having a rotating restaurant on the top of the hotel, there could be a restaurant that moves around the outside of the building so people passing by could look up and see it.
"This is definitely upping the definition of smart home or smart building to a whole new level," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "In fact, these aren't just smart homes - they're dynamic homes. Now the Internet of Things includes walls, doors and mechanical systems."
The impact of the robotic home could become even more dramatic over time, Olds said.
"Think about how much space you need in a typical house today, and how much of it you use at a given time," Olds said. "If the house could dynamically reconfigure itself to match your daily routine, you could find yourself being much happier in less space and using less energy. For example, a room could be configured as an office during the day, with a media wall that is used as a business display. But at night, it could be a living room, and then it could transform into a bedroom."
That kind of adaption could significantly cut down on the number of square feet people need in order to feel comfortable in their home.
But there are hurdles to overcome to get to that point.
Would a bed or a desk be stored in the walls when the room changes into something else? If a bathroom is switched out for a larger one, the plumbing connections would need to be standardized to make sure they seamlessly fit.
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