The year in madly cool robots

From giants to itsy-bitsy shape shifters, robots are hot

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A customer looks on as a 3.6 meter-high custom-made female cabaret robot at the newly opened "Robot Restaurant" in Kabukicho, one of Tokyo's red light districts.

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Controlled through a pilot in its cockpit, or via a smartphone, the four-ton (4,000 kg) "Kuratas" can be customized in 16 colors, and is armed with a futuristic weapons system, including a multi-rocket launcher that fires plastic rockets filled with compressed water.

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The commander of the International Space Station controlled this European Space Agency robot, made of Legos, from space.

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Toshiba Corp's four-legged robot, which the company says is capable of carrying out investigative and recovery work at tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, climbs a staircase during a demonstration at Toshiba's Yokohama complex in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. The new tetrapod robot, which is able to walk on uneven surfaces, avoid obstacles and climb stairs, integrates a camera and dosimeter and is able to investigate the condition of nuclear power plants by remote-controlled operation, according to the company.

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Robot arms assemble cars inside the Hyundai Motor India Ltd. plant at Kancheepuram district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu Oct. 4, 2012. Running around the clock and selling everything it can build, Hyundai Motor's Indian factory is bursting at the seams, the company says.

 

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One of Penguin Automated System's Mine Rescue robots being tested by Codelco at its Andina copper mine in Chile, where they do dangerous jobs like checking stability after blasting and surveying tunnels at risk of flooding. The equipment is one of an array of technologies being developed as miners look to a future where production is run almost entirely by people safely above ground.

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The Wall-Ye prototype, a robot designed to prune vines, is seen in the Pouilly Fuisse vineyard. The 50 by 60 centimeter robot, with four wheels and two metal arms, has six web cameras and a GPS and can roll between grapevines, test the soil and check the grapes. With a little more training, Wall-Ye will be able to prune up to 600 vines per day, says his inventor, French engineer Christophe Millot, who has been working on the project for the past three years.

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Robots made by students from Wuhan Institute of Technology University, dance for the visitors at the 13th China International Machinery and Electronic Products Expo.

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A bomb disposal robot detonates a mock bomb during training.

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The Emergency Integrated Life-Saving Lanyard, or EMILY, robot is outfitted the 5-foot, 5-inch (1.65-meter) boat with storm data-gathering sensors. Its builder, Hydronalix, based in Green Valley, Ariz., launched EMILY in 2010 as a robotic lifeguard.

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London bus doing press-ups in Prague. The bus, made by Czech artist David Cerny, does press-ups with the help of an engine powering a pair of robotic arms, and the motion is accompanied by a recording of sounds evoking tough physical effort.

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NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot currently investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

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A prototype robot that can detect and disarm Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) moves remotely during a test run at Makerere University's College of Engineering, Design Art and Telecommunication in Kampala June 6, 2012. The robot is remotely controlled by a computer and can navigate a flat surface of up to 20m radius. The development comes in the wake of continuous terrorist threats as a result of the country's contribution of forces to the African Union peace keeping mission in Somalia.

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Workers watch as a battery exchange robot changes the batteries in an electric car at China's largest electric vehicle battery recharging station in Beijing.

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A robot bows to Britain's Prince Charles (R) as he tours a digital media zone at Ryerson University in Toronto.

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A member of the U.S. Coast Guard launches an underwater robot to aid an ongoing police search for a weapon used at the Oikos University shooting.

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A pole dancing robot is pictured during preparations at the CeBit computer fair.

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An investigation using a robot, named "Quince2," on the 5th operating floor of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's No. 2 reactor building in Fukushima prefecture in February 2012.

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A camera mounted on a mobile robot-like structure moves across Pablo Picasso's 'Guernica' painting at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Experts have long been concerned about the health of Picasso's "Guernica," one of the world's most iconic paintings but one which is diagnosed as extremely delicate after a hectic life. A mobile, robot-like structure, using advanced infrared and ultraviolet photographic technology, is taking thousands of microscopic shots of the painting to allow analysts to penetrate the work like never before and see its real condition.

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Honda's Asimo humanoid robot pours a drink into a cup during a news conference at the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo.

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Diagram explaining an innovative robotic microsurgery technique developed by medical researchers in Singapore.

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MIT kicked off this year's EmTech conference with a presentation in which Rodney Brooks, the founder, chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics, welcomed attendees to an interactive hug from its safe manufacturing robot called Baxter. Standing roughly three feet in height, Baxter is equipped with two smart, independent robotic arms and a tablet-like screen displaying human-like eyes. With Baxter, whose programmable robotic arms can be set to hug a human being without crushing him to death, Brooks says Rethink Robotics is looking to foster broader innovation in a manufacturing sector that has fallen behind technologically.

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Vijay Kumar, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, impressed a TED2012 conference audience with a show-and-tell presentation featuring quadrotors, flying robots that swarm and work together as first responders, to transport cargo, to do construction jobs, to survey disasters and more. Kumar says because the aerial robots from his lab are so small, they can be much more agile than typically large unmanned aircraft.

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Paul the robot drawing Patrick at tenderpixel gallery, London. Paul was part of Patrick Tresset's exhibition at tenderpixel in central London.

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Jordan is a developer on the Microsoft Robotics Team and recently built a remotely operated robot for interacting and playing with his pet over the Internet. It has two way audio and video through Skype, a ball launcher, treat dispenser, ball recovery arm and a pan and tilt camera.

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This is a model prosthetic arm made entirely of Legos - hand movements and wrist abduction/adduction are Lego pneumatics - wrist pronation/supination, wrist flexion/extension, and elbow flexion/extension are Lego motors. The main purpose of this project was to accurately mimic the full range of motion of a normal human arm and hand. The secondary goal was to maximize speed and power, yet maintain a consistent ratio between the two for demonstration purposes.

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Japanese spider robot can pick up 'prey' and carry them away.

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Masters thesis of Thomas Nierhoff at Technische Universität München.

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CubeStormer II solves the Rubik's Cube puzzle faster than the human world record. This ARM Powered robot was designed, built and programmed by Mike Dobson and David Gilday, creators respectively of CubeStormer and Android Speedcuber.

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The HRP-4C Miim humanoid robot shows off her very human walking motion.

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Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd President Tsuneo Murata poses with his company's bicycle-riding robot "Murata Seisaku-kun."

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A free-swimming robot submarine, which is carried aboard the Australian Antarctic Division's icebreaker, Aurora Australis, is suspended from a crane in Eastern Antarctica. The team of scientists from eight countries have used a robot submarine to chart a frozen and inverted world of mountains and valleys, allowing accurate measurements of the crucial thickness of Antarctic sea ice.

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A 49-year-old electric bike mechanic who identified himself only as Wu welds a component to fit onto his newly-made robot at his repair shop in Shenyang, Liaoning province. According to Reuters, Wu spent over 10 days to make this nearly two-meter high robot using parts from abandoned electric bikes. The robot, which is able to walk and pump up tires by itself, is still under modification.

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NASA teamed with The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) this month to develop a 57-pound robotic exoskeleton that a person could wear over his body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints. The X1 was derived from NASA and General Motors Robonaut 2 project and the could find applications as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement more importantly as a way to help some individuals walk for the first time.

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, this year successfully tested the technology needed to fly two drones close enough together in mid-air, at speed that one, acting as a tanker aircraft, could successfully refuel the other.

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A robot from Keio University that can learn a task such as calligraphy then perform it again and again.

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Murata has taken tech from a bicycling robot and used it in a walking assist device for the elderly and those who have trouble walking.

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Here we have the four-legged robot, developed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamics. The pack bot is designed to offload the increasingly heavy amount of gear soldiers carry onto the battlefield. The robot walks on four legs and has a fast-reacting balance system that means it won't fall over if shoved from one side -- something that most robots can't handle. If it does somehow fall, it's capable of righting itself. There are also "eyes" at the front, actually electronic sensors that constantly scan the surroundings.

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Nissan will soon sell cars that drive like a video game, with sensors and software that assist or even take over for drivers in emergencies. The company's new technology will be the world's first to do away with the mechanical connection between steering and control of vehicles, replacing it with an electronic one. As drivers spin and twist their steering wheels in the new cars, information will be sent digitally to processors and motors that control the wheels on the ground. Nissan will also launch an additional "Autonomous Emergency Steering System" that acts to avoid accidents that can't be avoided by slamming on the brakes.

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MIT PhD student Swarun Kumar presented technology for a new autonomous vehicle that recognizes when it may be in danger of striking other cars and pedestrians. Kumar showed a video of a test run by the MIT researchers in which an autonomous golf cart running the technology, called CarSpeak, encountered a pedestrian walking from the entrance of a building to a crosswalk. The golf cart stopped roughly five yards ahead of the crosswalk and waited long enough for the pedestrian to walk to the other side of the road. The vehicle then continued driving automatically.

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Researchers showed off the latest incarnation of the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL), a full body suit that could eventually be used by workers dismantling the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. HAL — the name of the evil supercomputer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" — has a network of sensors that monitor the electric signals coming from the wearer's brain.

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An Oklahoma senator has called the project a boondoggle, but it’s still a pretty cool robot. San Diego State University's taxpayer-funded "robo-squirrel" is used for research.

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Technologists from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are showing off what they say is the fastest legged robot. The "Cheetah" robot is capable of galloping at speeds of up to 18 mph, which set a new land speed record for legged robots.

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Credit: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

Robo-cameras took home gold giving viewer unprecedented looks at this past summer’s Olympics. Here at a robotic remote DSLR camera is pictured during an installation for a basketball event at the Olympic Park in London.

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Octavia the firefighting robot was developed by the U.S. Navy.

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The RIBA-II caretaker robot bends over to lift a mock patient off of a futon on the ground.

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A robot at the MIT Media Lab is weaving a cocoon-like structure with a little programming help from humans. Eventually it will be autonomous.

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An iPhone app that serves as a streaming-video control for Sharp's new robot vacuum, the Cocorobo.

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Not officially called the MIT Shape Shifter but actually a milli-motein – the tiny system can meld its millimeter-sized components and a motorized design inspired by proteins, which naturally fold themselves into incredibly complex shapes. This minuscule robot may be a harbinger of future devices that could fold themselves up into almost any shape imaginable. The device was conceived by Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, visiting scientist Ara Knaian and graduate student Kenneth Cheung, and is described in a paper presented recently at the 2012 Intelligent Robots and Systems conference.

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Researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Seoul National University this year developed a soft autonomous robot that moves by crawling across surfaces by contracting segments of its body, much like an earthworm. The robot, made almost entirely of soft materials, is remarkably resilient: Even when stepped upon or bludgeoned with a hammer, the robot is able to inch away, unscathed.

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Again we turn to MIT engineers who this year showed off a robotic plane that could dodge obstacles in a subterranean parking garage, without the use of GPS.