By now our brains are all wired with smartphone battery anxiety, and panic starts to set in when power drops below 50%. In one of the more bizarre ways to keep those stresses at bay, a team of researchers have developed a new smartphone case with a set of tiny robotic legs that allow a phone to crawl to a wireless charging pad whenever it’s set down on your desk.
Robotics researchers from the Biorobotics Laboratory at Seoul National University adapted an existing crawling robot to create the CaseCrawler. Like the battery cases from companies like Mophie, the CaseCrawler adds a bit of bulk to your smartphone—about 16 millimeters on the end that houses the prototype’s electric motor.
If ever put into production, the case could definitely be streamlined and further miniaturized, but 16 millimeters is still impressive given the CaseCrawler features a set of retractable legs with a one-way bending knee so that when they move in one direction, they push against the ground and propel the robot forward. When moving in the opposite direction, they collapse and act passively so as not to impede the bot’s forward locomotion. The case can carry a payload weight as much as 300 grams, which is 13 times its own weight, and more than enough to haul the average smartphone, which weighs less than 200 grams.
The CaseCrawler prototype doesn’t appear to have any intelligence of its own or the ability to steer; it simply scampers forward in one direction. Thanks to its clever leg design, though, it’s not impeded by smaller obstacles in its path, which it can simply crawl over. Eventually, the smartphone it’s carrying could provide all the smarts and sensors it needs to intelligently find its way around and navigate an area like a desk without scampering off the edge. Automatically finding a charging pad to top off its battery is one application, but imagine if the next time you lost your smartphone, you could simply call to it like a puppy and it would come running back to you. That’s a future we’d all happily sign up for, even if you’re the kind who hates putting their phone in a case.