Inspired by a moving Egyptian statue, researchers in South Korea have developed a method that will let furniture move by itself.

Professional Daniel Saakes, of the Department of Industrial Design at KAIST, and his team explored a strategy for moving everyday objects by harvesting external vibration rather than using a mechanical system with wheels. This principle, researchers said, may be useful for displacing large objects in situations where attaching wheels or complete lifting is impossible—assuming the speed of the process is not a concern.

Ratchair_01_(cr) Figure 1: The vibration modules embedded and attached to furniture. (Source: KAIST)

After learning how several random bursts of vibration affect an object's pose, an optimisation algorithm discovers the optimal sequence of vibration patterns required to slowly—but surely—move the object to a specified position. Displacements of large objects induced by vibration are a common occurrence, but generally result in unpredictable motion. Think, for instance, of an unbalanced front-loading washing machine. For controlled movement, wheels or legs are usually preferred.

Ratchair_02_(cr) Figure 2: A close-up of the vibration module. (Source: KAIST)

Saakes' team was inspired by an Egyptian statue on display at the Manchester Museum, which mysteriously spins on its axis every day. Eventually, the researchers found that the statue's movement was caused by anisotropic friction forces and that the motile power comes from imperceptible mechanical waves caused by visitors' footsteps and nearby traffic. This phenomenon involves microscopic ratchets, and is pervasive in the microscopic world—this is basically how muscles contract, researchers said.

Next: Vibration modules pave way for moving objects »