Check Out These 11 Weird Robots That Make Us Laugh, Cringe, and Say ‘Whoa’

Nanobots that deliver drugs to injuries. Humanoid space robots. Bipedal robots that do parkour. We’ve got ’em all.

boston dynamics spot
Boston Dynamics

These days, robots seem to be designed to take over all kinds of human activities. They can carry heavy loads; perform repetitive and tiresome tasks; supplement humans in stressful jobs; crawl into hard-to-reach spaces for research, medical applications, or disaster recovery; or be expendable substitutes in potentially lethal situations, like military combat.

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So are they really weird? Or are they just the future? There are so many different kinds of amazing robots, the list could go on for pages. Here are 11 of our favorites.

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    1 Injectable Nanobots

    It sounds like science fiction, but these injectable nanobots can walk around inside a human body after being injected through a regular syringe.

    Designed at Cornell University, the teeny tiny four-legged bots could one day deliver drugs directly to injuries or tumors. Currently, they are only solar-powered, so they can’t be used inside a body, but that could change. Researchers say they could be powered using magnetic fields or ultrasound, and Cornell researchers are now working with University of Pennsylvania engineers to develop “smart” versions that will include controllers, sensors, and clocks.

    About a million of the little guys can be made from a specialized 4-inch silicon composite wafer, since each is only 70 microns long, about the width of a thin human hair.

    2 SlothBot

    As you might have guessed by the name, the SlothBot is painfully slow, collecting vital environmental data, such as temperature and carbon dioxide levels, in the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Georgia. But there’s a reason behind its apparent laziness. Its leisurely, languid locomotion helps the robot avoid suspicion and fulfill its mission, deputy editor Courtney Linder wrote in May 2021. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers designed the small robot with the googly eyes to find out what is pollinating a genus of rare orchids in the Ecuadorian Rain Forest.

    SlothBots are an unobtrusive solution to replacing interfering nets in a natural setting. Noisy humans use hanging nets to study plants and animals. The quiet robot uses an array of sensors to collect environmental data. That could help ecologists cross-reference that information with what they already know about high-altitude insects, or provide new clues as to which tiny flyers are pollinating the flowers high up in the mountains.

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    3 Russian Space Robot
    mecha, machine, robot, technology, toy, auto part, military robot, scale model,
    Roscosmos

    Originally intended as a rescue robot for emergencies, humanoid robot Fedor, or “Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research,” was instead co-opted by Roscomos, the Russian space agency, in 2019. Its mission: to test a new emergency rescue system aboard a Soyuz 2.1a rocket, a dicey setting that’s better for Fedor to handle than a human being.

    It would learn how to connect and disconnect electric cables using “standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher,” according to Alexander Bloshenko, the Russian space agency’s director. Fedor was to fly to the International Space Station, where it would be an astronaut assistant, especially on risky spacewalks.

    Once it got to the International Space Station, however, it quickly became clear that Fedor’s long legs and clumsy hands were not suitable for space walks or grabbing handrails in zero gravity. So its mission was aborted, but Roscomos plans to improve on Fedor’s design for a potential future mission.

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    4 Indian Half-Humanoid Space Robot
    human, mouth, fun, brown hair, long hair, photography, black hair, fictional character, gesture,
    Times of India

    The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is another space agency that plans to send a half-humanoid robot named Vyommitra to space by the end of 2022 on an uncrewed mission. The robot is slated to be aboard the Chandrayaan-3 uncrewed mission to the moon. Vyommitra is bilingual and has a human-looking face.

    She’ll be able to give out warnings if the environment in the cabin conditions become uncomfortable, so that humans will be better equipped to overcome problems before they head to the moon themselves. She’ll be able to operate switch panels to control the capsule and sit in human-like positions, plus she has a social function where, in the future, she’ll be able to recognize and chat with fellow astronauts.

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    5 Xenobots
    space, food,
    PNAS

    The researchers who developed these “xenobots” have called them “the first living robots.” Made from a cross between stem cells from a frog heart and frog skin, they are each one-millimeter-sized “programmable organisms,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont who co-led the research.

    Scientists at Tufts University, the University of Vermont, and Harvard University first designed frog embryos with computer algorithms. Their designers hope to learn more about cellular communication through this kind of design. “Plus, these kinds of robo-organisms could possibly be the key to drug delivery in the body or greener environmental cleanup techniques,” writes deputy editor Courtney Linder. They can squirm toward a target, self-repair, and push small items to a central location, all on their own.

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    6 Parkour Robots

    These robots really get around. They can actually do parkour: jumping across chasms, climbing stairs, hopping over obstacles, and running across a balance beam. The Boston Dynamics Robots named Atlas may look cool, but they are meant for more than that.

    “Ultimately, pushing the limits on a humanoid robot like Atlas drives hardware and software innovation that translates to all of our robots at Boston Dynamics,” the company said in an August 17, 2021 blog post. If they can do all of these activities seamlessly, then their tech could be applied for, say, rescue robots who need to climb over trees to get to a fallen person, or a hospital robot who can quickly self-correct if it drops a patient’s medication.

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    7 China’s Robotic Yak

    This four-legged robo-yak can supposedly carry as much cargo as two real yaks, according to a tabloid linked to the Chinese Communist Party. It certainly resembles a yak, with its four spindly legs and barrel-shaped body. However, its abilities may be overhyped, as this video indicates. It seems like China wants to use the robot to support ground troops, and not just by carrying supplies.

    Global Times, a Chinese tabloid with links to the Chinese government, claims it can carry up to 160 kilograms (352 pounds) and travel at up to 6.21 miles per hour. It cites the Chinese Communist Party news site, People’s Daily, as saying the robot was “the world’s largest, heaviest and most off-road-capable of its kind.” But the video seems to show it had problems with uneven terrain.

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    8 Military Robot Dog
    vision 60
    Sword International

    More promising is the U.S. Army robot dog, which combines a quadruped robot with a sniper rifle. Don’t worry, it can only fire at a human operator’s command. It’s packing a built-in sniper rifle capable of engaging targets from three-quarters of a mile away. The service could operate this robotic weapon system remotely.

    Importantly, it would only engage targets with permission from a human being, writes military and defense staff writer Kyle Mizokami. “Vision 60” has very similar characteristics to Spot, the internet-famous robo-dog from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics (see the next slide), but designer Ghost Robotics claims Vision 60 will eventually gain the ability to sprint at 9.84 feet per second, or 6.71 miles per hour.

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    9 Spot the Robo-Dog
    a yellow and black robot dog named spot, from the company boston dynamics
    Boston Dynamics

    You could actually buy one of the famous Boston Dynamics robot dogs, called Spot, in 2020, if you wanted to pony up $74,500. For current pricing details, you’ll need to consult the company.

    This good boy, with its distinctive sunshine-yellow limbs, can take over in dangerous situations and help out where needed. It has worked at an oil rig, at decommissioned nuclear sites, construction sites, and has even helped medical workers triage possible COVID-19 patients in a safe manner. Spot has even been used in creative projects, like dancing on stage and performing in theme parks.

    If you do entertain the thought of buying one, keep in mind that Spot’s not meant for home use and is not recommended to be used around children.

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    10 Weed-Killer Robote
    autonomous weeder
    Image courtesy of Coco Kou (Carbon Robotics)

    Using lasers, this farming robot takes out 100,000 weeds per hour. The “Autonomous Weeder” stands out from other robots in its class because it uses high-powered lasers to zap pesky sprouts into oblivion. And because the bot uses thermal energy to eradicate weeds, rather than a physical intervention like tilling, the machine doesn’t disturb the soil below. That means reduced farm costs, no more herbicides, and most importantly, happier, healthier crops, writes contributing editor Caroline Delbert.

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    11 Robot Comedian

    Meet Jon. He has toured comedy clubs in California and Oregon to hone his stand-up skills. But this funny guy is a robot, whose performance is part of a research project at Oregon State University that seeks to explore new ways to improve human-robot interaction.

    Because social robots, like Anki’s Cozmo toy robot, and autonomous agents like Alexa are increasingly infiltrating daily life, researchers Naomi T. Fitter and John Vilk wanted to gain more insight into how robots can use humor to communicate with humans, writes deputy editor Courtney Linder.

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