Researchers at Seoul’s National University Biorobotics Laboratory might just take the cake for most uncanny innovation of the year. This week they released into the world their prototype for the CaseCrawler, a smartphone case that, erm, crawls. Yes, the case includes tiny legs capable of moving your phone across the table.
The CaseCrawler’s mission is simple: move your phone to a nearby wireless charging pad. The case is lightweight and its legs fold flat when not in use, leaving you with a slim, usable form factor. You can almost forget it’s a robot when it’s closed up. As long as the legs don’t go rogue in your pocket, that is.
Listen, we’re all thirsty for exciting phone innovation right now. But, unless you’re looking for uncanny (and, to be frank, disturbing) entertainment, you probably won’t find much need for the CaseCrawler just yet. It's certainly a spectacle, though.
Running start — Use cases aside, the CaseCrawler’s technology is pretty astounding. Robotic legs are nothing new, of course, but you’ve never seen them quite like this.
The CaseCrawler’s six tiny legs each have a knee joint that bends only one way. Those joints allow the case to propel itself forward at an astounding rate of 21 centimeters per second while also supporting weights of up to 300 grams — more than 13 times its own body weight.
At 24 millimeters thick, the case isn’t quite as slim as your average iPhone protection, but it’s pretty spectacular given that all six of the legs retract when it’s not in use.
Not very useful — The problems with the CaseCrawler being used as an actual case are inherent in its design.
The researchers suggest the legs could be used so the phone can carry itself to a wireless charging mat, for example. But the CaseCrawler can only move across the table once a human has prompted it to do so — at which point it would probably just be easier to pick it up with your hands.
Wireless charging mats are also notoriously finicky when it comes to device alignment. It’s unlikely the CaseCrawler, with its limited sensing abilities, will be able to drop itself in exactly the correct location to charge your phone.
The case can also only move in one direction at the moment. If your phone is facing the wrong way — or upside-down or has fallen to the floor — you’re out of luck.
Future-forward hopes — Researchers know the CaseCrawler isn’t ready for the consumer market yet, but they hope to use this research as a basis for future innovation. They hope to make the case more autonomous in the future, which would make crawling to an exact spot much easier. Maybe someday the case will even let you beckon your phone like a dog.
The technology itself is fairly inexpensive to produce, researchers say, which means that, whenever it’s ready to crawl into our homes, it shouldn’t be too pricey to do so. In the meantime, might we suggest racing some Hexbugs for a similar effect?