Holiday commercials get earlier every year. Just last week we saw Elmo popping up on TV ads. This year they are re-introducing "Let's Rock! Elmo", the version that sings six different songs and comes with drums, tambourine and microphone. We suppose that toddlers continue to fall for the red Muppet, unlike parents who are probably sick of hearing him giggle endlessly.
We gave up eating tuna decades ago because dolphins were also getting caught in the nets. The Department of Home Security came up with their own fish that you cannot eat and should be smart enough to avoid getting trapped. The BIOSwimmer can be used to inspect interiors of ships and exteriors of harbors. Check out the first few seconds of the video to catch the tunabot in action. This was made a couple of years ago so it must be really impressive by now.
This is not yet more than a working prototype, and its creators are keeping pretty vague about details, however we always admire a good DIY bartender. The Arduino-powered Inebriator can mix one of 15 drinks autonomously. After the alcohol is dispensed, the glass moves to add mixers which are stored in bottles in a cooler beneath the table. The clever inventors are working on the next generation and would like to add an ice hopper and stirring mechanism.
Because Rodney A. Brooks believes that robots should be friendly to the max, he created Baxter. Meant for assembly line work, this Rethink Robotics adaptive bot will face its human coworker when his hand is touched. Baxter needs no special training and can compensate for error if a part is dropped or missing. He is definitely friendlier than other manufacturing bots but at a price of about $25,000, maybe the next generation could include some friendly chatter.
Popcorn Indiana mostly sells flavored popcorn and seems to have been fairly successful at this endeavor. Now they have teamed with an engineer simply named Ted who supposedly invented the Popinator. This automatic marvel of discovery will apparently shoot a piece to your mouth when you say the word "pop" from up to 15 feet away. We are not sure if this is actually real, remotely controlled or a clever PR tool. It certainly took a lot of practice to get the catching down. Still, we figured any video that gets over a million hits in less than a week deserves mention.
There are plenty of Kickstarter projects that we never report on, but this one has apparently been embraced by the public and will become a reality. Stompy is a humongous 6-legged bot suitable of the nearest disaster or amusement park. Project Hexapod is a group based in Somerville, MA. The arachnibot will have two drivers, an engine size of 135 horsepower, a weight of 4,000 lbs., a speed of 2 - 3 mph and can even walk through water.
One leg and 80% of the chassis has been built. Hmm, Stompy reminds us of another New England giant robot that rose to fame, eh Jaimie?
We thought this was going to be the Roomba of the farming community, but Blue River Technology is still working on a weeding bot. Instead of using pesticides, Lettuce Bot uses cameras, computer vision and algorithms to discern the vegetable from weeds and the claim is that they have 98 - 99% accuracy. It then spreads fertilizer down to kill the weeds.
The company has made two prototypes and the ultimate goal is to make an organic weeder which, now that they have funding from the National Science Foundation, will undoubtedly happen in the near future.
Tokyo University's entrance exam has the reputation as being one of the most difficult around and Fujitsu has taken on the task of creating a bot hat can pass it. The company teamed up last year with Japan's National Institute of Informatics with plans to complete a Todai exam-taking AI by 2021. The researchers will have to translate human math problems in a way that robots can process. History, social studies, science and foreign language will also need to be mastered.
Fujitsu says it can now do about 60% of the math problems so it still has a ways to go. We think that maybe it should take on Watson when it starts feeling its oats.
The time of the robot as a major police partner is certainly upon us. As an example, in West Bloomfield, MI, state police recently sent in six of them after a 20-hour standoff with Ricky Nelson Coley who had shot and killed Officer Patrick O'Rourke. Coley had barricaded himself inside his house with multiple firearms and knives. He shot at anything that tried to reach him on the second floor, including the robots.
A crane was sent in to tear into the room and it was discovered that the shooter had taken his own life. Still, it's a comfort to know that there are robot helpers during natural disasters, bomb threats and altercations involving standoffs where humans are in danger.
Velveeta's latest hero for their Shells & Cheese commercial is "that guy at the mall that sells the remote-control helicopter" They dig the dude so much that they set up an interactive site. We don't know if we share his taste in cheese food products, but we do admire his toys. Get yours!
For the last eleven years, kids from the Philippines have competed in the World Robot Olympiad, with this year's occurring November 9 - 11 in Kuala Lumpur, Malasia. One of the stars of the show will undoubtedly be one of their finalists in the Open Category. Hero, based on CNN 2009's Hero of the year Efren Peñaflorida, was built of aluminum and peanut butter jar caps. Over 400 public and private elementary and high schools participate in the yearly event which encourages creativity, critical thinking and ingenuity.
The Vietnamese toymaker Tosy Robotics, maker of the eerie mRobo, recently debuted two entertainment bots at the IFA in Berlin, Germany. The $100.00 SketRobo can not only draw 200 pre-programmed images, but can also produce custom portraits. The next generation will have a built-in camera to take a picture of a human subject then reproduce it.
DiscoRobo dances to tunes, features coordinated facial expressions, and will carry a MSRP of $60.00. Both will be available to humans in 2013.
Ally Bank has been trying to use humor to bring in a few more bucks. Its last campaign featured a blender for a teller and the latest has a bot for its star. We admit it is a bit cheesy, but we had to share nonetheless.
DARPA and Boston Dynamics have been paired to create Big Dog and Cheeta robots for years now, the latter of which broke its own speed record of 18 mph by going 28.3 mph in a 20 meter split. As a reference, Usain Bolt set a human record in 27.78 mph in 2009. This is all very well and good, but we want to know, what's the rush?
Little Acorn's Decorative Pillow features 4 friendly robots with embroidered details. The 12 x 16" cushion is made of hypoallergenic polyester and its linen cotton cover is washable
The same company also puts out a set of Placemats. Who could describe the set of four any better than the company itself?
"Make mealtime fun, and be good to the environment at the same time with our patented placemats. Cleverly designed to hold utensils and napkins in a fun and silly way that nurtures children's imaginations, while mealtime nurtures their tummies."
Software developed by Roke Manor Research in the UK is patterned after the human amygdala, a part of the brain that processes memory and emotional reactions. Installed in a vehicle, STARTLE detects threats, such as potholes, and responds by avoiding them.
The technology is also being tested in robot health monitoring and reacts to temperature or battery power changes. While still in the early stages, this is surely one step closer to making robots more human-like.
We have seen robotic gardeners before but this takes it to the point of almost complete automation in a 200,000 sq. ft. building in San Marcos, CA. Katsumi Shigeta, president and CEO of Hokto-Kinoko Co., purchased Kinoko, a mushroom exporting company that went out of business. Four kinds of shrooms are produced with the aid of robot arms and a climate controlled environment. There are over 120 humans to assist in minor roles.
After maturation, the organic crop is sold locally since exporting would mean spraying them with pesticides. Kudos to Shigeta for choosing a local distribution process instead. If you are not quite sure what to do with a king trumpet or brown beech mushroom, Hokto-Kinoko gladly provides recipes. And you have to dig the commercial, even if it's not in English.
You can be part of a new robot project created by Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology if you own a Kinect. Alper Ayedemir and team are using them to create 3D models that will help teach robots knowledge of their surroundings. Kinect@Home utilizes the WebGL plug in to make recordings and add to the data base. Think of it as less playing with your Xbox and more of a contribution to the eventual robot takeover.
After spending a mere $200.00 on parts, a team of students from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, Spain came up with a prototype robot that can create 3D shapes from sand or dirt. Powered by the sun and controlled with CAD software, it uses a nontoxic binding agent to make the sand sculptures permanent.
The team is hoping that the Stone Spray Robot can be used for building bridges or as a green way of creating housing after natural disasters. For now they are working on the nozzle to make it more precise and adding the solar panel on the robot itself.