Walking Robots Double as Japanese Garden Lamps
Cassinelli Alvaro via Youtube
The Toro-bots are part of a grand vision of a garden that can aesthetically rework itself.
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
Do you know what your garden is missing right now? Of course you do, because whenever this blog asks you what X is missing right now, the correct answer is always always always ROBOTS. And your garden is absolutely missing robots. Specifically, the sort with lots of legs and big lights on their heads.
These Toro-bots from Trossen Robotics customer Cassinelli Alvaro are built on top of PhantomX quadrupeds, and each has been programmed with its own unique behavior. Infrared rangefinders allow the robots to react to things like people walking past them, and they're also equipped with infrared beacons that allow them to be tracked individually by an IR camera and (eventually) given some level of centralized autonomous control.
The Toro-bots are about more than just having lamps that can walk around (as cool as that is). They're part of a grand vision of a garden that can aesthetically rework itself:
A Japanese garden is designed to recreate the eyes and foster contemplation and meditation. Inspired by nature, it is, however, a work of art: a production of the human mind. Human beings create that order, and then retreat to contemplate it, intervening from time to time to tweak details and maintain the order. We propose here a garden that takes care of itself, that somehow understands and re-interprets the rules of harmony and equilibrium, and reconfigures itself depending on the season, the presence or absence of a human observers -- that develops structure in a generative way, creating a dynamic conversation between the elements in the garden.
I like the idea that a garden full of robots might also be able to carry out practical tasks, like having walking lamps that follow you around at night. Maybe you can outfit them with cameras or other sensors to monitor plant health, and give them remote control over your sprinkler system. They could live (and charge) indoors, and come and go as they please through the robot equivalent of a doggy door. Adorable!
To get started on a robot like this of your own, all it takes is a Japanese lamp plus a PhantomX quadruped kit, which'll set you back about $1,000.
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
How 3-D Printing Might Revolutionize Amazon's Same-Day Delivery
Modular Robotics' MOSS Kit Makes Building Robots a Snap
Dash Robotics Developing Indestructible Biomimetic Roachbots for Everyone
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum; all rights reserved.