The Week's Best Robot Videos: The Loneliest Bot Since Wall-E

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 20 2012 5:44 PM

The Week's Best Robot Videos: The Loneliest Bot Since Wall-E

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, we see the possible future of NASA’s Robonaut, get a tour of iRobot’s museum, and meet a climbing robot snake.

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The Lonely Bot, Stranded in Space
Robbie is a sentient robot condemned to a lonely life orbiting the planet he loves dearly. Created in 2011, Robbie performed manual tasks for NASA, became self-aware in 2035, and departed Earth two years later, leaving him by his lonesome for the next 6,000 years (and counting). This haunting, and oddly human, story was created by Australian director Neil Harvey and is composed entirely of footage from NASA’s video archives. Robbie is played by NASA’s Robonaut, whose human interaction so far has advanced to the point of shaking hands with astronauts. In the video’s description, Harvey says he believes the story is “more uplifting, perhaps even celebratory,” than many viewers have suggested. “I'm not sure about anyone else, but I definitely find value in my life by occasionally thinking about how lucky I am that I was actually born at all.” I suspect we’ll be in good shape if all sentient robots can experience such existential awe.

The Museum Bots
At iRobot HQ in Massachusetts, another group of robots is kept away from the outside world. Nancy Dussault Smith, iRobot’s VP of marketing communications, gives us a look at the company’s robot museum, featuring everything from iRobot CEO Colin Angle’s first basic machine to an autonomous four-wheeled vehicle. It’s a long video, with many examples of the amazing robotics work iRobot has done over the years. Just a few highlights from the video: a face robot built to express emotions at 3:28; a robo-baby gets its face peeled off at 3:57; some voice-activated, interactive toys at 9:56; a flat inchworm-like robot concept model at 15:09; a mine-busting robot that adapts to damage at 16:50; and some swarming robots at 23:23. IEEE Spectrum, which took filmed the tour, suggests that swarming technology could be coming to a future version of the Roomba, allowing robots to coordinate vacuuming a floor and then washing it.

The Climbing Snake Bot
Are you ready for robotic snakes to slither their way up your arm? Like it or not, that’s what this bot from Carnegie Mellon University’s Biorobotics Laboratory was designed to do. The Biorobotics Lab has developed many versions of modular snake robots, which climb as we see here, as well as crawl, swim, roll, sidewind, and more. Part of the lab’s goal with the snake bots is to create new forms of robotic motion, which so far includes these examples of robots rolling along pipes and corkscrewing up a narrow crevice. The climbing we see here is the latest development, as the bot successfully scales its way up two tubes of different sizes and onto the guy’s arm.

The Quality Assurance Bot
Some cars manage to get everything just right, even the things you may never consciously notice. That feeling of quality might seem hard to quantify, and that’s where RUTH comes in. RUTH (Robotized Unit for Tactility and Haptics) is an industrial robot in Ford’s assembly line that gathers data on cars in the factory and checks to make sure everything feels precisely as it should. RUTH pokes seats, presses buttons, turns knobs, adjust vents, and touches just about everything a person would when driving the car. As “Luke,” a Ford employee, explains in the video, the robot takes a step forward in auto manufacturing by transforming the abstract concept of comfort into hard data. With the work RUTH is doing, hopefully we can all look to a future where every button, dial, and surface feels just right.

Via SlashGear.

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.

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