The Korean underwater robot Crabster being deployed from its mothership while assisting rescue operations near the site of the Sewol ferry disaster.
Paramount Pictures Corporation
June 29, 2011 --
In the movie "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon," Autobots, transforming robots from the planet Cybertron, work alongside humans to battle the Decepticons, a rival group of robots bent on destroying the universe. The latest Transformers installment may just be a work of fiction, but would real-life robots on Earth be up to the task of saving the planet from the threat of an overwhelming destructive force? Of course not, but that doesn't mean they won't get there one day. Until then, we present the next best thing in this slideshow of incredible real-life robots.
Alex Kossett and Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, U
We begin the slideshow with an actual real-life transforming robot. Although it doesn't tranform into a sentient, humanoid machine, this robot can transform from what appears to be an elaborate motorized rolling pin to a helicopter when the terrain starts to get rough.
Take a look at this flying robot in action here. BLOG: Rolling Robot Transforms into a Helicopter
What's more terrifying than a hungry, fully grown cheetah chasing you down? How about if it were made of metal? Meet CHEETAH, a robot designed by Boston Dynamics for one purpose: to hunt you down like an animal. Once built, this robot will be fast, agile and strong enough to chase down, catch and subdue even the fastest human runners. This robot is one of a line of prototypes known as "terror bots." An appropriate name, especially if you see this guy biting at your heels as you run full speed. BLOG: TERROR BOTS BEING DESIGNED TO HUNT YOU DOWN
If this robot reminds you of Scorponok from the "Transformers" film series, you wouldn't be far off. Designed by researchers at the University of Bielefeld, this advanced walking robot is based on a rather simple creature: an insect. HECTOR, short for Hexapod Cognitive autonomously Operating Robot, has six legs and elastic joints that allow its motions to mimic muscle movement. This construction allows the robot to navigate over uneven terrain. At a little more than three feet long and weighing in at 26 pounds, this robot probably won't be involved in any world domination schemes anytime soon. BLOG: HECTOR THE WALKING ROBOT INSPIRED BY INSECTS
Snake Robot to the Rescue
Cheetahs and insects aren't the only animals inspiring robotics' engineers. Mechanical snakes are also being designed to mimic their mechanical counterparts. Unlike CHEETAH, which is made to hunt you down, this snake robot, created by researchers at Georgia Tech Univeristy, is actually designed to come to the rescue. Their unique body shape allows them to burrow through uneven soil. With this unique feature, emergency responders could deploy these robots after a particularly devastating natural disaster, such as an earthquake, when victims are buried and out of reach. BLOG: SNAKE-LIKE ROBOT SWIMS TO THE RESCUE
Robots may not yet be able to conquer the Earth, but what about the wide world of sports? They're already playing soccer and tossing baseballs. Now it looks like they're competing in marathons. (Well, robot marathons anyway.) Last February, five bipedal robots ran a non-stop 26.2-mile race on a 100-meter indoor track in Osaka, Japan. But don't expect these machines to compete with humans anytime soon. Robovie-PC, the winner of the race, finished in just under 55 hours. BIG PIC: TOY-SIZED HUMANOID WINS ROBOT MARATHAN
Ingmar Posner, Oxford Mobile Robotics Group
No this robot can't run or jump or slither or swim. So what can it do? This machine, known as Marge, has a very different ability entirely: It can read -- and it can learn. Marge may just look like a Tonka truck underneath a coffee pot, but this machine is actually smart enough to read The New York Times and BBC Online. It is even a skilled editor and can identify and correct misspellings. And because Marge's brains are built in its software, not its hardware, this same programming could make its way into other devices, such as cell phones. BLOG: ROBOT CAN READ, LEARN LIKE A HUMAN
Can anyone really tell the difference between right and wrong? Well, this robot can. This robot's ethical code is based on a software program modeled on an approach to ethics developed in 1930 by Scottish philosopher David Ross. As a result, this robot is designed to take the moral high ground -- and will tell on you if you're doing something wrong. Sure this robot doesn't have the firepower of an Ironhide or a Starscream, but a judgmental expression and a jittery nod of disapproval can be just as damaging. BLOG: ROBOT MAKES ETHICAL DECISIONS
Meet Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot that could one day be your co-worker -- or even take your job. Yes, this robot has everything any employer looks for in a diligent worker: It's capable and tireless, and it doesn't ever need lunch or bathroom breaks. In fact, you'll never guess where this robot is currently employed: the International Space Station. Robonaut 2 is currently working along astronauts, helping with basic maintenance tasks, such as cleaning. DNEWS VIDEO: MEET 'ROBONAUT 2,' YOUR FUTURE CO-WORKER
Robonaut 2 isn't the only robot on the space station with a job. Dextre, the Canadian robot that lives outside the International Space Station, has been tasked with refueling satellites while in low-Earth orbit. The robot will also be capable of performing minor repairs. In other words, this robot is essentially a space mechanic. Although a gas-pumping robot may not seem like much, Dextre could pave the way for an entirely new industry for satellite servicing. NEWS: SPACE STATION ROBOT LANDS A JOB
When Bong-Huan Jun first saw news of South Korea's Sewol ferry sinking with hundreds of high school students trapped on board, he had stopped by a highway service area on his way to work. But unlike many South Koreans helplessly watching the live broadcast on TV, Jun knew he had something that could help out — an experimental underwater robot named Crabster.
Crabster was designed by Jun and his colleagues at the Korea Research Institute of Ship and Ocean Engineering (KRISO) as a huge, six-legged robotcapable of scuttling along the ocean floor. The robot can withstand strong tidal currents and carries both sonar and acoustic cameras capable of seeing through murky underwater conditions — precisely the conditions divers had to struggle with as they searched the Sewol ferry wreck in the cloudy waters of the Yellow Sea near Jindo Island.
But Crabster had only just begun underwater testing in July 2013 and remained relatively untested. Now it faced one of the most challenging tests for any underwater robotic vehicle during one of South Korea's greatest maritime disasters in its history.
"When I knew the rescue team had serious difficulties due to the high current and turbid water at the accident area, I called Dr. Sanghyun Suh, director general of KRISO and talked about Crabster’s functions and possibilities for helping with the rescue," Jun said. "The task force team of my institute reviewed the underwater robots made in KRISO and agreed to send Crabster to the area."
The Sewol ferry sinking on April 16 had already kicked off a frenzy of rescue operations by ships and divers. But South Korean government officials eventually requested the Crabster team's help on April 20 and allowed the team to move the robot from Namyangju to Jindo Island on April 21.
When Jun and the Crabster team arrived aboard a mothership, they found dozens of ships and a swarm of smaller boats surrounding the main rescue barge anchored near the ferry sinking site. Divers were working with a visibility of less than 20 centimeters at a depth of about 45 meters below the surface. They also had to deal with maximum tidal currents of more than 15 kilometers per hour. (Crabster experienced currents of less than 5 kilometers per hour during its initial deployment.)
"Crabster can stay deeper and longer, and it can see father," Jun explained. "But Crabster cannot go into the ship. We wanted to work together with human divers, but we had no chance to do."
The robot successfully used its acoustic camera and sonar to capture images of the seafloor, providing a stable platform for surveying the ferry wreck despite the tidal currents.KRISO
The South Korean Coast Guard refused to allow the relatively untested Crabster to work directly with human divers at the ferry wreck, but it eventually gave the robot's team one and a half hours to survey the sunken ferry from a distance of 70 meters. Jun and his colleagues had originally wanted permission to tie their ship to the large rescue barge that was firmly moored to the seafloor with four anchors, so that they could steady their smaller ship against the wind and waves while deploying Crabster. But they made the best of their circumstances during the 20 days they spent at Jindo Island.
Strong waves and wind created a rolling motion in the mothership that made it difficult to launch or retrieve the 700-kilogram Crabster during bad weather days. Such bad weather meant the team spent 15 of their 20 days of deployment stuck in port waiting for conditions to improve.
During the initial survey, the mothership drifted too close to the rescue barge and required the help of a nearby tugboat to back out again. A lack of space aboard the mothership also meant the team went without sleep for the first three days and two nights, until they retired to the nearby Pengmok Harbor to rest and wait for additional windows of opportunity.
Still, Jun and his colleagues ended up launching the robot 13 times, allowing the robot to spend 15 hours and 36 minutes in the water. After an initial two-day survey, the team spent an additional three days surveying the sunken Sewol ferry from distances of 500 meters to 1 kilometer.
Despite its baptism by fire, the Crabster robot worked perfectly as it walked across the seabed containing mud, stones, and small pieces of shell. The robot successfully used its acoustic camera and sonar to capture images of the seafloor, providing a stable platform for surveying the ferry wreck despite the tidal currents.
The Crabster team eventually returned to their home base in Namyangju on May 20 and unloaded the robot. There they joined their fellow citizens in confronting the grim death toll from the Sewol ferry disaster — at least 286 dead, most of them students on a school trip. South Korean president Park Geun-hye ordered the dismantling and reorganization of the country's coast guard on May 19 as part of several reforms in the wake of the tragedy, according to BBC News.
Jun believes that Crabster needs additional experience in the water before the South Korean government will fully trust the robot's capabilities — he had expected the robot to be used even more than what the coast guard had allowed. But he and his colleagues hope to build upon their experience to be better prepared for any future rescue missions that may come up.
"I think the next Crabster should be a powerful hydraulic-powered one having enough power to break the doors and windows of cabins," Jun said. "Then the robot will be able to install guide ropes and make routes to inside the ferry for divers at the initial rescue stage."
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