Robots, Chairs, and Libraries

For his graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Jelte van Geest designed the “Take-A-Seat†concept — a robotic chair for libraries. “Take-A-Seat†chairs can be activated by visitor’s library cards and will follow them as they wander about the library, providing an ever-present seat for reading or browsing through a book. Multiple chairs could also be activated by library personnel and would follow the staff member to a lecture area before arranging themselves in neat rows for the audience to use.

Here’s a short video of van Geest’s concept in action:

Just before writting this, I showed the video to Son#2, who immediately broke out into laughter. He said he could see walking through the library, activating every chair can find, then running from one end of the library to the other, screaming and waving his arms, while a stampede of chairs came rumbling along after him. That’s my boy!

I searched the Interweb for more information, but it’s still unclear whether this video was filmed of real “Take-A-Seat†chairs in use, or if it’s simply the equivalent of stop-motion photography in order to visualize his concept.

While researching, I found a robotic chair created by Max Dean as a performance art sculpture — currently on display at Kitchener-Waterloo Children’s Museum (Sept 20, 2007 – Jan 6, 2008). Dean’s chair — definitely not for sitting upon — will fall over into pieces, then carefully rebuild itself before doing it all over again:

Not only is this chair entertaining, it displays some rather sophisticated robotics. It can find all of it’s missing pieces and attach them where they’re supposed to be connected before pulling itself back together again.

But even more interesting, I also found a short article in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) indicating that the Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney, were planning to begin phasing in robotic drones as shelvers. Due to the size of university collections, quite a few books are stored in non-public areas of the libraries. The drones would be used to search for and retrieve them as needed. They expect robotic drones to be in use by 2011.

Using robotic shelvers is not a new idea. Roboticists at the University Jaume I in Spain developed a prototype robot shelver in 2004. The robot could navigate itself to a shelf, read book titles, then withdraw a specific book and deliver it to the person waiting. At the time, they figured it would take about another 5 years before robots could realistically perform searching and fetching tasks.

I’d say they were right on target.

Link: Jelte van Geest (Dutch)
Link: Robotic Chair
Link: Waterloo Regional Children’s Museum
Link: Library drones would put shelvers in a bind
Link: Robots in Libraries

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