Science fiction has given us a load of awesome robots: Optimus Prime, R2D2, the Terminator. Unfortunately, all of these are – for now, at least – fictional. Today, however, the science fiction author’s eternal dream of highly sophisticated robots becoming commonplace is fast getting closer to fact than fiction. How long will it be until seeing a robot walking down the street won’t be worth a second glance? According to the work of the makers of some of the mechanical marvels below, not very long at all…
An amazing invention (if pretty creepy to see and hear in action) made by Boston Dynamics et al. Essentially built to function as a robotic pack mule, BigDog is notable for being dynamically stable. Able to navigate icy terrain and even recover its balance when kicked, BigDog’s four legs can effectively allow it to go places where other vehicles can’t. However, the eerie buzzing sound its modified go-kart engine makes coupled with its spidery, uncanny valley plunge-inducing way of movement makes it pretty damn weird to be around.
The Roomba is a pretty awesome little machine, really. Made by the appropriately named iRobot company, it is arguably one of the most widely used household robots today. A small autonomous vacuum cleaner, the Roomba can safely navigate your home by itself thanks to a variety of intuitive sensors (including the so-called cliff sensors that stop it from falling off ledges or down stairs). While it’s certainly not one of the robotics world’s most exotic creations, it definitely gets one of life’s more mundane tasks done in a cool, science fictiony way. Additionally they are quite popular with modders and hackers; you can even control them with
a Kinect if you know how.
The AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt, this name also resembling the Japanese word for “pal” or “partner”) was Sony’s breakthrough robot. Able to operate autonomously, the AIBO can move around, see its environment via an inbuilt camera and recognise spoken commands. They became so popular that an AIBO convention was – and continues to be – held in Shinjuku ever year. The first model came out on May the 11th 1999, several different versions of the robot having been released before it was finally discontinued in 2006 (although the trade of second hand AIBOs continues unabated to this day). However, Sony confirmed that there would be support for the latest ERS7 model until 2013, as well as hinting at the ongoing development of the AIBO software for use in other consumer products.
The QRIO (Quest for cuRIOsity) was, sadly, never available for commercial sale (and would have cost the same as a family saloon car if it had been). Another robot from the Sony stable, the two foot humanoid QRIO was capable of vocal and facial recognition as well as being able to take part in conversations, dance and run (it being awarded a Guinness World Record in 2005 for being the first bipedal robot capable of doing the latter). Its amazingly fluid movements meant that it soon became famous for performing choreographed dance routines at various different events and venues, even starring in the music video for Beck’s song Hell Yes. Alas, what could have been.
The ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility) was made by Honda, and was first officially unveiled in 2000. Standing at four foot three inches tall, it looks a little like a small astronaut due to its helmet-like head and curved visor. Able to recognise faces, voices and objects, the ASIMO can also hold conversations and carefully navigate its environment in a manner that is both safe for itself and nearby humans. The ASIMO’s “backpack” is actually where its battery is housed, the latest model capable of around forty minutes to one hour of operating time. ASIMO is very well travelled, having made many public appearances worldwide. Let’s face it: robot or not, you know you’ve made it when you have your own show at Disneyland.
Ella is a long time robot fanatic, having been ineffectually trying to recreate them out of cardboard boxes since she was small.