These Researchers Invented a Set of Wheels For Your Phone

Autonomous mobility could change how we relate to our smartphones.

Aug 1 2016, 9:00am

What if your phone had wheels allowing it to approach you or run away from you on its own volition? It's a scary thought, I know, especially for those of us who pick it up first thing in the morning. At the University of Tokyo, researchers Takefumi Hiraki, Koya Narumi, Koji Yatani, and Yoshihiro Kawahara have built a wheel accessory that attaches to the phones in order to explore "the interaction for smartphones with kinetic capabilities."

This video by Takefumi Hiraki shows phones on a cute set of wheels push packages, ride away when the snooze button goes off, and inch closer to its owner when an important notification comes in.

The accessory comes with a set of wheels, a circuit board equipped with micro-controllers, a USB-serial converter, motors, motor drivers, and rotary encoders. The wheels and casing, themselves, were manufactured via 3D printing.

The current prototype controls the phone's linear and rotational movements. The "motor actuation" allows the phone to push objects, "hard push" informs the owner of notifications if the phone is not nearby, "scale trace" allows the phone to take measurements of an area, and, perhaps the one we all love to hate, "runaway snooze" senses the user's when trying to extend the phone alarm clock's snooze time and has the phone scurry away.

Of course, aside from "scale trace," which is controlled manually as the user runs the phone around a surface area to to take measurements (for moving in furniture, or other purposes), the rest of the wheel set's functions depend on the surface the phone is on. If your phone ends up on your bed with the alarm going off, the soft surface doesn't as easily facilitate mobility. Likewise, the phone could drive itself off a bedside table.

If only they could now invent a way for the phone to wiggle out of my hands when scrolling mindlessly online gets figuratively (and one day literally) out of hand.