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Robot Tiles using fabric sensors
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Robot Tiles using fabric sensors

Robot Tiles is an artwork by Professor Hiroo Iwata from the University of Tsukuba. The tiles utilize Kuralon EC, a conductive textile developed by Kuraray.

Professor Iwata has used Kuralon EC as a carpet-type sensor that communicates the position where a person has trodden. With Robot Tiles, people's locations do not change even when they are walking.

"There exist virtual reality technologies where people move in a world of images, as seen in the latest games. But to make people feel like they're really moving, it's important for them to not just see, but also walk on the floor with their whole body. To do this, it's necessary to move the floor as the person walks, so that the location doesn't change no matter how much the person walks. If the person only moves straight ahead, all that's needed is a conveyor belt. But as people always change direction, we need technology that can move the floor so people can walk whichever way they want. Robot Tiles are one answer to this problem."

Robot Tiles have wheels that can move back and forth and side to side, with motors and computers to control them. The position of each tile is detected by infrared sensors installed on the floor. Based on this information, the host computer gives instructions to each Robot Tile.

"What's important is to know where people are. There must be tiles in the places where people are, so people's positions are very important information. As a sensor to detect that information, a special carpet made from the conductive textile Kuralon EC, developed by Kuraray, is laid over the tiles. This carpet contains a grid of fibers that conduct electricity. When you tread on an intersection between vertical and horizontal fibers, a current flows, which serves as a switch, detecting where your feet are. By moving the tiles in such a way that people are always standing in the same place, you can create a system where people return to their original position no matter how they walk."

In this demo, the tiles are programmed to move straight ahead and at 45 degrees. By changing the program, it is possible to move in any direction throughout 360 degrees.

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