Developed by a team from MIT’s Media Group, ChainFORM is a hardware system of interlocking modules that form a snake-like body. This might sound only moderately interesting, but the video below will likely change your mind.
As you can see, the system — which vaguely resembles a robotic serpentine when in “straight” mode — can be seen changing shape using the servo motor and flexible circuit board embedded in each module.
This new shape can then be used as a display with the LEDs on each part of the former “snake” until a new form is needed. From there, it can twist itself into something new — perhaps a puppet skeleton, a haptic glove, a poor posture-detecting device, or even a stylus that transforms depending on the function.
The module consists of three components: a circuit board, a 3D-printed bracket and a servo motor. The motor is placed inside the bracket, which provides a mechanical connection for joining to another module. An ATmega328P MCU serves as the brains of the operation, while an MTCH6102 controller enables every surface of the module to be touch-sensitive. A small solid-state relay is tasked with turning on/off the torque of servo motor, while an array of eight mini NeoPixels cover the side to make an LED display.
As impressive as that is, imagine if bots like these could be scaled down further, configuring themselves to whatever you need at the time! You can read more about this project on MIT Media Lab’s site, and check out the entire paper on the subject here.