Wall-Climbing Robots Enable Unique Shelving Concepts

As urban populations continue to increase, living spaces become smaller and smaller. Even in the United States where we have huge swaths of empty land, city living spaces come at a high premium. The situation is even worse in some locations. For example, 21% of Tokyo’s households are apartments or condos with less than 212 square feet of area (according to Japan’s 2019 Housing and Land Survey). With such little space available, residents must devise clever ways to make the most of the area. That could mean vertical thinking, as demonstrated by this wall-climbing robot shelving system.

Consider your own living space. If you’re like most people, you store the vast majority of your items at chest level or lower. The only things on your walls are pictures, artwork, and maybe a shelf or two full of knickknacks. That isn’t a problem if you’re lucky enough to live in a home with plenty of area, but for others it represents wasted space. The obvious solution is to line every wall with shelving that reaches the ceiling in order to maximize efficiency. But reaching those upper shelves is a problem for most people — especially people who are short or who require wheelchairs.

This robotic shelving system solves that problem. It seems silly at first and the current prototypes are quite clumsy, but the idea is sound. There are many ways to implement this system and the first is to treat each individual robot as a shelf. When not in use, that robot can drive up the wall to “park” in a location out of the way near the ceiling. When someone requires an item stored in that robot’s cubby, the robot drives back down the wall to come within reach.

But that setup would require numerous robots, which limits its practicality. A more feasible setup would utilize a few robots (or even a single robot) to retrieve items from a vending system mounted near the ceiling. The vending system would drop a stored item into the robot’s cubby and the robot would then carry it down to the user. When that user is done with the item, the robot would take it back up to deposit it back in the vending unit. This concept might even work better if the wall-climbing robot were omitted entirely and replaced with a conveyor belt system.

Not much detail is available on the robots themselves, but in the demonstrations they adhere to the walls using magnetic wheels. That would mean that the walls would need ferrous linings, which would add to the cost. Other possible solutions include special wheels that grip the wall like a gecko’s feet and a vacuum suction apparatus similar to an inverted hovercraft. However, both of those would severely limit each robot’s payload capacity.

As it stands, this is just an idea with a rough proof of concept. But it highlights the importance of vertical space utilization in cramped areas.

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