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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.