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Robots Do the Darnedest Things

by Paul Strauss
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Robots have been among us in various ways for hundreds of years – from the earliest automata in the 15th century to today’s modern humanoid ‘bots. But if you think that robots are only used for assembling cars or as kid’s toys, you’ve been missing out. So in order to showcase some of the things you probably didn’t know robots could do, I’ve put together this compilation of some of the best, and most unusual robotic capabilities we’ve featured over the last several years.

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They can cook your breakfast. A team at the Technical University in Munich programmed a pair of Willow Garage PR2 robots to shop for groceries and cook sausages…

And this one is learning how to flip pancakes all on its own…

They can play the trumpet. A few years back, Toyota showed off  it’s Partner Robot, which could actually blow through its robotic lips, and play a little tune. Hi-ho! It’s off to work he goes…

They can fetch you a beer. The Asahi Robocco BeerBot actually has a refrigerator for a stomach, and when you’re ready for a cold brew, it grabs a can out of its belly, cracks it open for you, and pours you a frosty mug…

They can shampoo your hair. Panasonic recently showed off a robot which soaps up your hair, then scrubs your head, getting your hair nice and clean, while giving you a bit of a robotic scalp massage…

They can ride a bicycle. You’d think that the constant balance adjustments we humans do when riding a bicycle would be a challenge for robots, but the Primer-V2 has no trouble keeping upright on his pint-sized two-wheeler…

They can play the drums. Not to be outdone by the trumpet-playing robot, the Yellow Drum Machine robot is a homebrew robot who reacts to its environment, searching for things which make a pleasing sound, and then proceeds to play drums on their surface.

They can lift sick patients from their beds. The RIBA II assistance robot can lift patients weighing up to 176lbs. from their beds, helping them avoid bedsores, and move them to a wheelchair from bed or vice versa…

They can try on clothes for you. The Fits.Me droid provides users with an adjustable mannequin, which can be fitted with clothing, and then adjusted to match your own body specifications. This way, you can see if an outfit fits without hitting the dressing room –  or at least if it looks good on a robot…

They can draw portraits. Designer Patrick Tresset combined a simple robotic arm with a video camera and custom software to snap pictures of subjects, and then draw a rough version of the person using pen and paper.

They can help the disabled overcome physical challenges. Using a robotic exoskeleton, paraplegic UC Berkeley student Austin Whitney was able to walk on stage to receive his diploma…

While some of these robots perform mundane or silly tasks, other are actually really helpful. Regardless of the importance of the task, the underlying advancements in robotics, mechanical engineering, software and artificial intelligence might someday find its way into a robot who builds you your house, delivers your baby, or administers CPR. Or you could just have an awesome robotic meal from your robot butler. Who knows?


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This is post is part of Technabob’s Innovations Series, in partnership between Technabob and Intel®: Sponsors of Tomorrow. The Innovations Series is here to enlighten and stimulate discussion about technology and its impact on our everyday lives.

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