HERMITSKen Nakagaki, Joanne Leong, Jordan L Tappa, Joao Henrique Wilbert, and Hiroshi Ishii / 2020


Project HERMITS explores a way to greatly advance the versatility of Robotic Tangible Interfaces. Inspired by hermit crabs, we designed a modular system for table-top wheeled robots to dock to passive attachment modules, defined as ‘mechanical shells’. Different types of mechanical shells can uniquely extend and convert the motion of robots with embedded mechanisms, so that, as a whole architecture, the system can offer a variety of interactive functionality by self-reconfiguration.

As for our proof-of-concept system, we have implemented an interactive system based on off-the-shelf robotic toy, toio, with several modifications to enable the active docking capability. We have developed custom-built control architecture to handle the I/O for multiple toio robots using a single computer. A variety of mechanical shells were designed based on four primitive designs, and fabricated with 3D printers. With this system, we introduce a rich application space including physical space organization, digital data physicalization, and entertainment and storytelling systems.

The general approach in HERMITS expands how physical interfaces and computers in our daily life can adapt and reconfigure for user interactions with passive attachments. We are in the age where robotic systems are emerging in our living space (e.g. robotic vacuum cleaner, drones). The idea presented in HERMITS has greater implications beyond our prototype, where everyday robotic systems to gain a numerous amount of functionality, expressivity, and interactivity by switching mechanical shells.

Please refer to our paper for technical and conceptual details.

For press inquiry, please contact < ken_n [at] media.mit.edu >. Press kit can be found here.

Presentation Video

Here is a presentation video we have shot for UIST presentation. 5 mins version can be found here.

Mechanical Shell Examples


Ken Nakagaki- Project Lead
Joanne Leong - System Design and Paper Support
Jordan L Tappa - Fabrication and Design Support (MIT UROP)
Joao Wilbert - System Design Support
Prof. Hiroshi Ishii - Project Advisor