#weirdrobots: A Look into the Strange and Unusual World of Robotics

by Jon Gabay, Engineer

The term robot conjures up different images for different people. For some, SciFi has taken its toll, and killer Terminator-style robots instill fear and trepidation. For others, the Jetson’s vision of an automated robotic future is humorously entertaining. The reality is the entire spectrum of robots exists, some whimsical, some terrifying.

While some robots are poised to eliminate dangerous and tedious occupations like defusing bombs and inspecting bridges, others are positioned to eliminate most menial and high-level jobs. This will cause quite a shakeup shortly as massive unemployment results from deploying robots in nearly every discipline.

I have seen robotic bartenders listen to my order, get glasses, ice, bottles, and mixers, combine, shake, prepare, and serve. There is consistency and efficiency, but they are not very good at listening to problems and life’s tribulations. Still, the bar doesn’t have to pay social security taxes, unemployment, workman’s comp, 401 K contributions, sick leave, and holiday pay. Even though robots are expensive to buy and maintain, there is a payback benefit eventually.

But face it: Robotics will invade virtually every aspect of our lives as we advance, and we are already starting to see this. The first mass deployment may be in food service. Burger flipping and food preparation robots are not that dissimilar from industrial robots that have been used for decades. Especially during pandemic times, it was nice to know that no one sneezed on your burger during preparation.

This brings up the point that robots don’t have to look and act human. For example, a robot that picks cherry tomatoes does not have to resemble any living creature.

What’s more, the term weirdest robot is subjective. I was initially going to pick the five creepiest robots, but, there are so many, one blog couldn’t mention them all. So, I will mention a few with brief descriptions, and you can do your searches to find out more details or to find others just as strange.

HiBot’s ACM-R5 – Snake Bot: A snake robot that can crawl on the ground and swim through water. The Chinese even have a space-based version designed to hunt and destroy satellites.

Suidobashi’s Kurata robot: This 4-meter tall menacing robot has machine guns and rocket launchers and can accept other armaments. A smartphone can control it, or someone can pilot it from inside.

Kolibree’s Ara toothbrushing robot: This AI-based toothbrush uses deep learning to analyze your brushing techniques using embedded accelerometers, gyroscopes, and sonic vibrations.

Airwheel and Forward X Ovis smart luggage that can follow you. Just what we need. More stuff to take on vacation.

UC Berkeley’s Speed folding robot folds clothes: Search, and you will find several commercially available others.

US Naval Research’s Octavia robot: A humanoid-like robot with ‘creepy’ facial features designed to help fight fires and help engineers test naval fleet tasks and technologies.

Injectable Nano bots: Designed and developed at Cornell University, these tiny four-legged robots can walk around inside the body that can be powered by magnetic fields and ultrasonic sounds.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Vyommitra half humanoid robot: slated to accompany astronauts on the Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon.

Ausburg University’s Marvin: the paranoid robot inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Depressed, slightly conceited, and sassy.

Swiss Federal Institutes fish and bee translation robots that allow fish and bees to talk to each other. I bet more people will pay attention when the birds and bees start talking.

Lego Robot with Ringworm Brain – Openworm Project: By scanning and analyzing, and simulating the 302 neurons in a ringworm’s brain, scientists put the simulated AI brain inside a robotic structure, and it taught itself to move and behave in similar ways to the ringworms, and, even stop before it hits something in its path.

Traffic and Sheriff robots: The Handan Bureau uses robots to control traffic on roads and even document criminal behavior. I hope it runs out of paper before giving me a ticket.

Cornel University’s robotic fish powered by synthetic blood: The hydraulic fluid inside this robotic fish acts as a source of power allowing it to swim upstream for 36 hours.

Houston Mechatronics transformer-like shape-shifting submarine: This semi-humanoid style robot can transform into a submarine navigating underwater to find a target. A head and two long arms can be used for underwater tasks.

There are many other examples, like Boston Dynamics, the Soviet space program, cooking robots, and even brilliant munitions. Note that advancements in AI are driving many of these innovations, and it won’t be long until everyone interacts with smart robots daily.

Recently, cities like San Francisco legislated that armed robots can use lethal force in ‘extreme’ cases. The policy was blocked but still up for debate. I would predict military battlefield robots to be deployed soon and eventually trickle down into law enforcement.

One of the most significant potential markets for intelligent robots is human companionship. Aspects of this are a subject for another article. I hope they all acknowledge a safe word to shut them down when things got horribly wrong, and, they will.

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