The Week's Best Robot Videos: Baby Bots and Self-Aware Machines

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 16 2012 4:58 PM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: Baby Bots and Self-Aware Machines

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us.

This week, robots make artificial bones, get knocked around, and see the world the in 3-D.

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The Lego Lab Bots

Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world? In the novel Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder argued that it deserves the special status because it can be used to build just about anything. Scientists at Cambridge University prove that in this video, using Lego robots to create artificial bones. Making the bone structures is time-consuming and extremely repetitive, making it a great job for robots. It’s a task that could be done by expensive, specialized bots, but as we see here, robotics doesn’t always have to be so complicated. “The importance in science is the creativity in going forward,” Cambridge lecturer Michelle Oyen says in the video. “It’s not exactly what tools you use to get there.”

Via MSNBC.

The Stand-Up Bot

If you like watching robots fall down, you might not enjoy CHARLI-L2. (Try this instead.) Built at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, this full-size humanoid can get pushed around and keep going strong. CHARLI uses a variety of sensors to quickly stabilize itself when hit, making it look like a brick wall compared with that shoe on a stick. An earlier version of this bot rose to robo-stardom last year when it won the adult-size league at RoboCup 2011. The team behind the CHARLI bots hopes to advance the science that could allow for more humanoid bots and, presumably, more soccer players.

The Self-Aware Bot in 3-D

Qbo, the bot we’ve seen discover itself and others, now has a second set of eyes to help it explore the world. The robot’s developers at TheCorpora added an ASUS motion sensor (similar to Microsoft’s Kinect), letting Qbo see in 3-D, build maps of its surroundings, and autonomously navigate the world around it. Fans of Qbo also got a hint of good news last week. While TheCorpora hasn’t announced the product’s official release date, a company blog post says the bot “is finally about to see the light.” The company has even opened a contest to guess when Qbo will hit the market. The person with the closest guess wins a Qbo, presumably to set in front of their very own mirror.

Via Slashgear.

The Baby Bot

The last baby-like robot to appear on Future Tense was horrifying. This one, thankfully, is much more fun to watch. The iCub comes from a collaborative project in Europe and has an amazing range of motion, including eyes that move independently of the head. This lets it follow a moving object, and we can see it tracking and reaching out to grab a red ball. The bot even has skin that can tell when it’s being touched, so it knows to move gently. Professor Giorgio Metta says the idea is to have a robot that can be used for research by people who aren’t necessarily roboticists, and its lifelike quality could be useful for studying human-robot interaction.

Watch on the Wall Street Journal.

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.