Home Tech Calico: The Tiny Robot that Takes on Multiple Roles – Dance Instructor, Workout Tracker, and Beyond

Calico: The Tiny Robot that Takes on Multiple Roles – Dance Instructor, Workout Tracker, and Beyond


Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a remarkable robotic innovation called Calico. This tiny robot weighs a mere 18 grams and possesses the ability to traverse a specially designed track affixed to clothing. Its versatility is truly impressive, as it can assist users in various tasks such as guiding them through fitness classes or even functioning as a stethoscope.

Despite its diminutive size, the Calico robot exhibits impressive strength, capable of carrying a payload weighing up to 20 grams. It navigates at speeds ranging from 115 millimeters per second to 227 millimeters per second, as reported by IEEE Spectrum. Moreover, despite its modest 100 mAh battery capacity, Calico can remain active for nearly eight hours in an idle state or provide continuous movement for approximately 30 minutes. The potential for extending its battery life through wireless charging is also being explored.

In a publication from September of the previous year, the researchers outlined numerous possible applications for Calico. Some notable examples include its utilization in fitness coaching, where it can offer personalized guidance during workout sessions, and its role as a miniature stethoscope, aiding medical professionals in examining patients.

Workout tracker and form coach

The Small Artifacts Lab at the University of Maryland, responsible for the creation of Calico, recently demonstrated the integration of a mobile app with the robot for monitoring various exercises.

Through the accompanying mobile app, users have the ability to pre-select their desired workout routine. Once the workout begins, Calico intelligently positions itself on the user’s body to accurately track their movements. A video released by the lab showcases an individual selecting a workout routine that comprises three squats, five seconds of planks, and three push-ups. This interactive system ensures precise exercise monitoring and guidance throughout the session.

The robot moved to the knee before the user began squats, went to the user’s back before they started doing a plank and then went to the elbows to track the pushups. All of the information collected by the robot was relayed back to the phone app.

Interestingly, the robot also seemed to be coaching the user’s form as they worked out. In the video, when the user began doing a plank, the robot went to the back and began moving back and forth. It did this to track whether the user had a neutral spine while doing the exercise, which is essential. According to the lab, it will notify the user with a vibration if that is not the case.

Healthcare application
The researchers also touted the ability to attach additional sensors to Calico. They attached a stethoscope head to the robot to give it the ability to record sounds from the heart, lungs and other organs as necessary.

Data physicalization
There are many apps and softwares that helps people keep track of their daily actions. This could be anything from the amount of water they are drinking daily or the amount of water they drink.

Many of these functions could be taken over by Calico. For example, users can keep track of whenever they drink water by tapping the robot in a particular way. They can also track the robot in another way for it to move to a location which will physically indicate how much water they have drank the day. In this way, Calico can be used to physically represent data entry and perusal.

Customisation and being a dance instructor
Calico is not all work and no play. The researchers also showed how the robot can be customised with different looks. You could make it look like a cute little pet with googly eyes that could react to your touch. The robot can also act as a dance instructor that can correct your movements but that feature did seem a little less than usable.

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