MORPHs, short for Mobile Reconfigurable Polyhedra, are adaptive octahedral structures that can roll around public spaces and respond to their environment. Their intent is not only to provide a dynamic and playful environment for play areas within public parks, but also to encourage younger generations to engage with computational technology from an early age.
Video: MORPHs interacting with children at Regent’s Park, London.
These robotic structures can move from one place to another autonomously or they can be guided towards a specific location through tactile input. They can also be controlled wirelessly and the onboard GPS module can be used to define a boundary for the robot to operate in.
The octahedral robot is made of twelve actuated struts, which when extended will shift the centre of gravity of the entire structure, leading it to roll over in a specific direction. This happens relatively slowly, providing enough reaction time for the people around it to stay clear from its path. It also has embedded pressure sensors within the rubber joints which provide it with information about its orientation, whether it is about to lean over an obstacle, or if it there is someone swinging from it or trying to push it.
Video: MORPHs testing at BMADE robotics lab, UCL.
The current prototype is around 1.5 meters high and can withstand an imposed load of 30 kilograms. We are currently developing a second version which will be twice the height and will have a higher loading capability. This will be featured in ‘Ancient Sunlight’ – a new large-scale outdoor live performance for international touring, produced and directed by Kaleider.
The robot moves relatively slowly and its movements are very predictable – for example, one can easily identify which direction the robot is about to step as soon as it starts moving. This reduces the risks usually associated with moving objects which can suddenly change their direction.
If it is lifted off the ground, the pressure sensor readings from the joints resting on the ground will drop significantly. This will not only confuse the robot about its orientation with respect to the ground, but also indicate that someone is trying to steal it. One can also detect this by comparing GPS co-ordinates. Any of these will result in the robot playing a repetitive loud noise, in order to attract the attention of nearby park wardens or passers-by. Although we envisage this as a partially-autonomous robotic structure, it will always rely on human resources for policing, maintenance, etc.