The Best Robot Videos of the Week: Like Looking in the Mirror

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 2 2011 7:02 PM

The Best Robot Videos of the Week: Like Looking in the Mirror

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. This week we see advancements in motion and situational awareness.

The Flexible Bot

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In the future, even robots dance the worm. This flexible bot created by a team at Harvard breaks from the rigidity of robotic motion by using a novel locomotive system: pumping air into the different legs to move around. Researchers looked to animals like squids and starfish to create this soft-bodied machine, which can stand tall, lie flat, and slide its way into—and back out of—a tight spot. Even if the motion is still a little unsettling, you can’t help but cheer the thing on.

The Self-Aware Bot 

Qbo the robot just saw its own reflection, but the real takeaway might be that modesty is hard to program. A product of the Corpora Robotic Co., Qbo can learn to recognize objects and faces. We see the robot identify a person and then a picture of a penguin, but when it rolls up to a mirror, it has to learn what it’s looking at. As noted in the video description, there aren’t many species of animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror. Our guess is there are even fewer that see themselves and say, “Nice.”

The Builder Bots 

These robots might not know what they look like, but they know how to work together. The quadrocopter construction teams developed at the University of Pennsylvania work in “swarms” here to build a tower out of magnetic beams and joints. What’s impressive is their ability to fly together in the same small area, and they make quick work of a project much larger than they are. People might have trouble warming up to the idea of robots flying overhead with heavy pylons, but in theory the process could reduce construction to blueprints, a computer, and a swarm of bots.

The Airshow Bots 

Also in the teamwork category is this project from the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control in Zurich, Switzerland. Showing off further ability for flying robots to work together in a tight space, these quadrocopters jump into formation without colliding. The first part shows them flying to predetermined points, and the second shows them picking points at random.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Adam Sneed is a researcher for Future Tense at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @atsneed.