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PixelBots: Making Things With Light! (And Robots!)

by Paul Strauss
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When I was growing up, one of my favorite toys was the good old Lite Brite. I’m guessing that it was an indication that I would later find myself hopelessly addicted to pixel art. Now, technologists are working on tiny robots which can create Lite Brite style art all on their own.

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Created by Disney Research and the Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH Zurich, PixelBots are round, palm-sized robots which have a LEDs inside of them, and a drive mechanism on their bottoms. An overhead camera tracks the positions of each robot and a computer controls each robot remotely. They’re designed to be able to swarm together to create rudimentary images composed of dots.

Currently, the robots can replicate images drawn on a tablet, and the can also change between images using gesture controls. They can also automatically recover their position if a user picks one up and moves it out of place.

One other neat thing is that their wheels are actually magnetic, so they could not only be used on tabletops, but they could stick to whiteboards too. While I’m not sure there are too many practical application for PixelBots, they sure look like fun, and I’d certainly love to have a fleet of them at my command.

You can read more about how PixelBots work in the research paper Image and Animation Display with Multiple Mobile Robots.



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