Disney was one of the first to use automatons, including Country Bears and Presidents of the United States. So, it is not surprising that they are becoming more advanced in their technology. One of their latest is a humanoid bot that can play catch, juggle and look disappointed when there is no one to play with. What started as a project with a Kinect morphed into the robot with an Asus Xtion Pro Live camera for tracking. They took it as far as getting him to turn his head when participating with a human. They also programmed the catchbot to react at a dropped ball. Future plans include supplying one to each Disney park location.
It isn't enough that they put out new products every time a new movie or craze is born. Lego is now taking its building acumen and turning it into games. One of the first is Robo Champ that not only teaches kids how to build a bot, its gameplay is thinly disguised as a contest at a robot factory. The first player to assemble one correctly wins. One of the rules involves stealing your needed pieces from another because you can never learn too early that thievery pays.
Toshiba has developed a robot to help inspect the Fukushima nuclear reactor which is still a do not enter site a year and a half after the disaster. Looking a bit like Boston Dynamic's Big Dog, the bot is operated remotely and has a camera for inspection. Three feet tall and weighing about 143 lbs., it has four legs and two arms that can unpack a second, smaller robot for exploration. Still a prototype, the company is working on its positioning skills, giving it shielding and teaching it to stop water flow and remove obstacles.
Hubo II is Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology robot that they are preparing for the next DARPA Challenge. He has been taught to do some basic dance moves, walk, run and other practical tasks like valve turning. And since KAIST is located in Korea, you know that they have taught him Gangnam Style, a more advanced routine than the one executed by Charli 2. By the way, you can get your own Hubo for a cool $400,000.
Watch out! That mannequin may be watching your every move. Almax's EyeSee has facial recognition and can log age, gender and race of those who are shopping. This is useful in determining shopping habits of retail customers and keeping an eye on would-be shoplifters. The Italian-based company also plans to add screens nearby to inform customers to purchase items relevant to their profile. We suspect that puts them one step away from the ability to speak out with comments like, "Step down. We know what size pantyhose size you wear."
HEARBO (the HEAR-ing roBOt) has the unique capability of being able to distinguish all kinds of sounds from voices to sound effects. Utilizing HARK technology, it can distinguish those sound by localizing, separating and recognizing them. The bot is so talented that it can already identify 4 different sounds within 1º of accuracy. This gives HEARBO an advantage as a service bot since it can will when to answer a doorbell or feed a whining child. The video also shows his ability to turn on and off music, adjust the volume and wave his arms a bit to keep time.
The Rover Spy Tank creates its own WiFi connection and can be controlled by iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. An adjustable camera streams video and takes photos while a built-in microphone sends back audio. The device has night vision capability and runs on 6 AA batteries (included.) Also included is access to a free app to control the tank.
Japanese researchers discovered and published images taken by one of their satellites orbiting the Moon about 3 years ago. It depicted a large hole below the surface. Enter William 'Red' Whittaker, a robotics expert that has been testing a bot in a defunct coal mine near his home in Pennsylvania. His 4-wheeled Cave Crawler is still a prototype at this point but NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is funding the project to turn it into a reality by 2015.
Momentum Machines is working on a robotic system, nicknamed Patty, that can cook burgers and toast buns, then slide them down to a compartment where veggies get sliced and placed on the burgers. It then adds condiments and bags them. Apparently the entire operation takes less than 30 seconds, thereby leaving the human burger worker to join the ranks of the unemployed. The 5 foot tall prototype is still a work in progress and judging by the unappetizing imagery, it will be a while before a Pattyburger is actual competition.
Leave it to Takara Tomy to come up with yet another robotic toy that does not need tending. The Robo Fish depends on two watch batteries that propel it up and down. That movement makes it appear that it is randomly rooting around for food. So far only available in Japan, the fishbots come in 4 different models and carry a MSRP of ￥2,980 (~$38.00)
On the other hand, if you don't want to wait for it to be imported, Fincredibles put out a Fish Bowl with a pseudo clown fish that will annoy swim endlessly with an additional benefit of changing LED lighting. The electronic bowl needs 3AA batteries (included.)