12 creepy new robots that could take over the world

A roundup of robots and drones that could take over the world.

There’s nowhere to hide from these 12 new robots

IREX, the largest robotic exhibition in the world, and IROS, the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, both recently showcased the cutting edge of technology combined with robotic innovation. But you don’t have to travel to Tokyo to see what’s new, like “cute” swarming quadrotors, flying robots, or bots that can assemble themselves or climb rocks and even clothes. It could be seen as cool, or it could be the beginning of a creepy future in which robots take over the world.

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Attack of the cute swarming quadrotors

You don’t have to travel to Tokyo to see bots that will blow your mind. KMel Robotics and Lexus took “technology that could be seen as very cold and mechanical and impersonal” and humanized it. Swarming quadrotors show what's possible when you combine code, technology and imagination. The results are indeed Amazing in Motion, but the idea that “when we go home and turn the lights out, these little guys come out to play” could be turned on its head to be a creepy horror show instead.

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Cloth-climbing mini robots

Enter the little two-wheeled robot that can climb up clothes. "Rubbot: Rubbing on Flexible Loose Surfaces" was created by the Chinese and introduced at IROS held in Tokyo earlier this month. Rubbot can climb up you and even hang upside-down from your clothes. While that is cool, it is also creepy if you imagine being overtaken by a swarm of cloth-climbing tiny bots.

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Insect-inspired flying robot GimBall

IREX, the world’s largest robot trade fair, is only held every two years. This year marked its 20th and drew 334 companies to wow the robot-loving crowd. Swiss robotics engineers introduced the flying robot GimBall that was inspired by insects. Gimball can go into cramped, cluttered environments where other robots can’t. It was called “a crash-happy flying robot that bumps into and ricochets off obstacles rather than avoiding them.”

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Flying robot AirBurr sticks to walls for reconnaissance

Both GimBall and the AirBurr robots were “designed specifically to study the physical interaction between flying robots and their environment.” The AirBurr came first, but the creators of Airburr V11 say "its insect-like features make it perfect for reconnaissance." Airburr “uses the sense of touch to navigate autonomously” and “can attach to walls using a deployable perching mechanism with gecko adhesives.” Sticking to the wall allows the flying robot “to extend its mission time by turning off its motors while it scans the surroundings.”

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Army of 908 tiny swarming house-cleaning bots

After reviewing 1,700 submissions by students with the theme of Inspired Urban Living, the 'Mab' took home first prize at this year's Electrolux Design Lab competition. If fully developed from concept, it may mean the end of humans doing humdrum housework. Powered by solar energy, the self-cleaning system consists of 908 tiny robots that scan the home and then fly off to attack dirt. The bots polish surfaces with a drop of water and deodorize the air. Mab was created by a 23-year-old Columbian, Adrian Perez Zapata, who is an industrial design student.

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100+ swarming kilobots working together

Massive Uniform Manipulation was presented at IROS 2013, introduced with this swarm of 100 kilobots assembling and delivering a component as an example. Rice University’s Aaron Becker explained how to control 100+ tiny robots by moving a single light source around.

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Self-assembling cubes

Never tell students in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory that something “can’t be done.” Modular robots are not new, but these small cubes with no external moving parts can climb, leap, roll and self-assemble. M-Blocks with sensors, cameras, lights, battery packs or other special equipment could re-assemble on the fly into a large machine. MIT researchers are working on an army of 100 of these cubes “scattered randomly across the floor, to be able to identify each other, coalesce, and autonomously transform into a chair, or a ladder, or a desk, on demand.” If one gets lost, or “something goes wrong, it can rejoin the group, no problem.”

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Amphibious snake robot

At IREX 2013, the Japanese company HiBot showed off this waterproof robotic snake as the future of search, rescue, or inspections in extreme hostile environments, such as nuclear reactors. This new amphibious snake robot, ACM-R5H, can be fitted with a wireless camera and specialized sensors. The size can also be customized by “adding or removing” active joints. It is capable of traveling above ground over rough surfaces as well as traveling underwater.

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Flying spider drones

"Building tensile structures with flying machines" was presented by researchers from ETH Zurich at IROS 2013 before being labeled as a “spider-drone.” Each quadcopter is fitted with a camera and a spool of cable that it can weave like a flying robot spider to connect structures. In future construction, "you just program the structure you want, press play and when you come back your structure is done." Roboticist Koushil Sreenath added, "Our current construction is limited, but with aerial robots those limitations go away."

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No escaping from MUWA flying, floating, rolling quadrotor

Also at IROS 2013, University of Tokyo researchers showed off their “Dream Ring,” a new type of quadrotor surrounded by foam that can fly, float, and roll on its side like a wheel. MUWA, or Multi-field Universal Wheel for Air-land Vehicle, expends less energy when rolling, compared to flying, which also means it “can squeeze through vertical gaps that it wouldn't be able to while flying horizontally.”

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NASA’s rock-climbing robot

Not to be outdone, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showed off the world’s first rock-climbing robot at IROS 2013. JPL’s upgraded LEMUR robot, LEMUR IIB has four arms that each have 750 micro-spine gripper claws, which allow it to climb almost anything and even hang upside down. Each of the four arms of this beast has three degrees of freedom and is capable of lifting 35 pounds. JPL intends to better the design before sending it to distant worlds, but so far “with its advanced micro-gripper feet, the LEMUS IIB has proven itself by scaling vertical, inverted, and steeply slanted rock walls.”

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WildCat 4-legged galloping robot

When the founder of Boston Dynamics, Marc Raibert, showed off what’s new at IROS 2013, cameras were not allowed. But Raibert called the newest four-legged robot, WildCat, his “favorite.” Although the Cheetah robot can run faster at 28.3 mph, it was also tethered in place. WildCat has so far reached speeds of 19.9 mph while running freely. With funding from DARPA, that is likely to increase, as will “types” of gait. It can currently “gallop” or “bound.” Imagine that four-legged galloping monster chasing you. No worries, though, because if any of the previous new robots or drones were to hunt you down and hurt you, scientists are working to create smarter surgical robots that could patch you up.