25 best real robots
Who needs R2-D2? These are our favourite plastic pals that are fun to be with
Let’s take a look at some weak flesh-bag-human replacements, that might seem scary-advanced now, but to future generations will be as laughable as the first mobile, a 5in floppy disk, and those damned Furbies are to us now.
Boston Dynamics PETMAN
PETMAN, created to test protective clothing for extreme situations, has become so much more. He’s able to walk like a man, run like a man, and even jump like a man. You can push the big fella and he’ll balance himself out to keep on walking. We suspect he’s made for more than clothes testing – perhaps a future race of robot soldiers who don’t like being pushed about? Yes, that’s much more exciting.
Sphero Robotic Ball
Ball games take on a whole new definition with Sphero, the smartphone controlled rolling robotic ball. Hook this explorative sphere up to your Android device and use a selection of gaming apps to play with the ball or simply draw routes on your phone and watch Sphero obey your fleshy commands.
Boston Dynamics SandFlea
SandFlea is a jumping robot that can clear 30 feet in a single down-firing piston-propelled jump. Other than taking remote control toy cars to another level this will be useful for infiltrating buildings and delivering video reconnaissance to the military. And with 25 jumps before needing a refuel this little guy can certainly explore.
A sub-aquatic robo-fish might not sound that useful without a spear-gun and a whole bunch of attacking sharks. In reality it could help save our oceans by hunting down and reporting pollution. Robo-fish will constantly patrol harbours – in teams if their AI deems the threat necessary – keeping track of any chemicals that may be leaked by vessels, a great deal better than current once-a-month checks.
Hanson Robots Zeno
Zeno was created to help humans communicate better, using a Frubber skin to elicit facial expressions it’s ideal for teaching, especially for children with learning difficulties. His dual HD camera eyes and 37 degrees of movement mean he can recognise and remember who he is teaching to enable a more natural chat. But at £10,780 for the privilege you’d hope he will one day be able to do your washing too.
There’s something a bit creepy – no, terrifying – about robots that look like people, and not just because we’ve watched Blade Runner too often. In the case of the Geminoid-DK, it’s the lifelesss, serial killer eyes that really push us over the edge. All in the name of research, too.
Robots that were humanoid used to have two legs, two arms and a head. That was where the resemblance ended. The Actroid has moving eyes, an expressive mouth and a human voice. And she’s all the more fear-inspiring for it.
The world’s most famous non-fictional bipedal robot (if that’s not too much of a niche) has been a regular attendee at tech events since his birth in 2000. In 2006, he took a spectacular spill in Tokyo. Yeah, we’re mean enough to include it here.
Boston Dynamics Cheetah
The land speed record for robots (yes, such a thing exists) was held by an MIT robot from 1989 until a few months ago. In May, Boston Dynamics smashed the 13mph target with the Cheetah, a quadrapedal bot that can do 18mph on a treadmill. BD plans to test it in the open later this year, at which point you might want to change your name to Lunch.
Aldebaran Robotics Nao
Someone call Asimov. The Nao is capable of lying, according to this video clip in which he bins his mate’s rubber duck, then denies all knowledge. In a more edifying turn, he’s also the robot of choice for the Robot Soccer World Cup (or Robocup), a mantle Nao took over from Sony’s Aibo in 2007.
This humanoid might not be able to hold a candle up to Rebecca Adlington in the fast lane, but a swimming robot is still an impressive feat and the first step to a water-based robot invasion. Created by a team at Tokyo Tech, its 20 waterproof motors are designed to measure the forces required for different swimming strokes (and beatings).
Boston Dynamics RiSE
Who needs radioactive spiders when science is there to save the day? This little fellow can climb anything from walls and trees to fences and other textured surfaces, all thanks to its six electric motor-powered legs. Just don’t get scared and spray it with Raid. It’s probably worth a lot of money.
Rock, paper, scissors. An ancient game that’s simple to learn yet nearly impossible to master. For humans that is. Meet Janken, the cocky little hand that will destroy oven the speediest of humans 100 per cent of the time. One millisecond is all it takes to for the sensor to read your hand before rendering your puny attack useless.
This canine-like rambler might look like an electronic headless hell hound from the circuitry abyss but it’s actually a pinnacle of stable four-footed walking, with the ability to adjust according to the terrain and obstacles (including, we presume, chasing postmen).
This adorable little fellow has won us over with large saucer eyes and stylish Batman ears, though he’s more than just a pretty face. With more sensors than a Star Trek communicator, the DARwIn-OP boasts a HD camera and mic, a built in speaker and SD card slot and has the ability to learn, walk and even pick itself up when it falls on its behind. Which is more than we can say for many of us on a night out.
CB2 is short for “child-robot with biometric body”, and was built to simulate child development, in order to better understand the process by which an infant learns. It’s capable of realistic movement and vocalisation, sense via sight, sound and touch, and has a full set of soft, human-like skin. And it’s almost adult-sized, so basically it’s a huge creepy robot baby. Someone get Haley Joel Osment on the phone.
This 13-inch tall chap is a breakdancing phenomenon, performing the sort of loose-limbed moves more suited to the streets of the 1980s Bronx than your living room floor. So get some lino laid down and watch him do his thing… once you’ve shelled out the US$1,000 price tag, of course.
SnackBot simply trundles the hallways of Pittburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University offering tasty foodstuffs to faculty members and students. This helpful android uses laser navigation, sonar and two cameras (arranged like eyes) to navigate through the corridors and recognise people. The only downside? Its scarily emotionless HAL 9000-style voice.
Not everyone aboard the International Space Station is a human. Take RoboNaut 2 (or “R2” as he’s affectionately known), the first humanoid robot to enter space: he’s up there to help out the crew by performing tasks too deadly – or more often too boring – for a person. He’s not quite Data from Star Trek, but his inclusion on the team is one giant leap for robot-kind.
Toyota robot violinist
Attempting to show how robots could be performing basic household tasks, Toyota had this cyberman play “Land of Hope and Glory” on the violin. While technically perfect, we can’t help but feel that this robot’s performance lacks a human touch.
NASA Curiosity rover
The little robot that could, Curiosity is currently trundling about on the surface of Mars following a descent that was described by NASA as “seven minutes of terror.” Initially sending back Instagram-esque snaps of the Red Planet, Curiosity’s since upped its game with some truly breathtaking HD panoramas. NASA’s rover has done us proud.
Frankly, MorpHex’s transformation from rolling sphere to hexapod spider-bot scares the bejeezus out of us. But it’s undeniably impressive, looking like an unused design from Portal 2.
Since its launch in 2002, Roomba’s become the definitive robot vacuum cleaner – iRobot had better be careful, or people will start talking about “Roombaing” in the same way they do about “Hoovering.” Spinning brushes and clever sensors mean it won’t get stuck, and it also makes an excellent transport for cats. In the interests of fairness, check out our 5 of the best robot vacuums.
Boston Dynamics BigDog
When James Cameron depicted the war against the machines in Terminator, he neglected to show the hunter-killer death robots hopping like they urgently needed the toilet. Still, DARPA’s BigDog – which looks more like a decapitated goat – has a reason for its unusual gait; it’s able to hop along at 4mph and climb slopes up to 35 degrees.
It’s intended to carry munitions for soldiers, but we reckon it’d be equally effective at simply freaking the enemy out.
Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid
This lawnmower robot will keep your bowling green neatly clipped at all times (what d’you mean, you don’t have one?). It’ll putter about over half an acre trimming back the grass, and because it’s solar powered it keeps your garden green in all senses of the word. At US3000, a clean conscience doesn’t come cheap, though.