Rovables - Wearables That Crawl All Over You
Written by David Conrad   
Saturday, 22 October 2016

This is probably not what you think of when wearable computing is mentioned, but it's a really interesting idea and perhaps once we get over the shock and creepiness factor it will be the breakthrough needed to make our clothes intelligent. 

For me most of the attempts I've seen at wearables are simply not of interest. I really don't understand why you would want a dress or a shirt with an LED display or something that changes its appearance according to your mood. Most wearable computing looks clunky and very unfashionable - it is exactly what you would expect us geeks to think up. 

Now we come to Rovables and everything changes. 

Yes there is a creepy factor. Having something roaming over the surface of your body might well make you jump and scream a little. How many Rovables hit the deck because of a move that was just a bit too quick or, dare I say it, a bit too intimate. However, look beyond the creep factor and you can start to see that this isn't silly. Having a powerful computer that hides in your pocket when you don't need it and rushes out to sit on your shoulder next to your ear when a translation is needed seems like the way to do things. Why a wrist watch and why not a body watch? And what could be better than a few small Rovables to come out and pull the hood of my jacket up when it starts to rain. In fact they could take responsibility for the upkeep of all my garments in a sort of continuous cleaning and repair process. 

Take a look a this video presentation from the Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software & Technology:


The team at the MIT Media Lab still have some problems to overcome. The battery life is only 46 minutes and the carrying capacity is fairly small. They have delveloped a localization system and a 3D model of where the Rovables are and WiFi lets the devices stay in touch with bigger computers. 



a) Current Rovables prototype. Magnetic wheels provide an ability to climb vertical clothing. The onboard electronics and sensors provide autonomous operation. b) Multiple Rovables climbing a shirt. c) In the future, Rovables could become fingernail sized. A swarm of them can create an on-body interface or do distributed sensing. d) Rovable climbing a vertical piece of fabric

This is just the start. Give the Rovables cameras and they can help protect us from dangers in the environment, navigate for us while they help us read our messages without bumping into things. As long as we could get used to the occasional Rovable diving under the armpit they could even check our body temperature and make sure we are well. 

Extend the idea to a swarm of Rovables and perhaps we don't even need clothes at all... OK, perhaps I have just gone too far. 



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Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 October 2016 )