It takes a village to raise a robot. At least, that's the belief of the creators of iCub, a humanoid robot the size of a 3-1/2-year-old child, who are making its development entirely open-domain.
The iCub is the brainchild of a group of European universities led by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, who have been charged by the European Commission to develop a functioning humanoid child. They developed a 2-1/2-foot-tall, 70-pound robot child with 53 mechanical joints that allow it to move its head, neck, arms, fingers, eyes and legs. It can also feel with its fingertips, grip with its hands, and listen.
Encountering a swarm of genuine sewer-dwelling rats would send the average human screaming and jumping up onto the nearest chair, but there's nothing to fear -- and everything to admire -- about the latest plague of ratbots being developed in robotics labs around the world.
Combining two of Japan's greatest strengths, a noodle-shop-owning electronics wizard has invented a robot that can make the perfect bowl of ramen.
It took the 60-year-old shop owner Yoshihira Uchida about 20 million yen and five years to develop the ramenbot. Now customers of his shop, Momozono Robot Ramen, in Minami-Alps, a town 90 miles from Tokyo, can customize their broth, adjusting everything from the levels of soy sauce and salt to the richness of the soup. There are reputedly 40 million different possible flavor permutations.
If there's one thing the world doesn't need more of, it's rats. But try telling that to the researchers at France's Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics (ISIR) who have thrown themselves into designing a realistic ratbot capable of scuttling around on tiny wheels, seeking food, avoiding dangers and presumably scaring the bejeezus out of innocent humans.
Instead of envisioning robots as either mindless slaves or potential overlords, couldn't we just figure out how to all work together? Cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists are teaming up with roboticists to do just that -- developing teamworkbots that know how to read their partner's actions and intentions and to predict what he or she will do next as they complete tasks together.
Your mother told you never to speak to strangers, but what if the stranger was a robot on wheels, who was lost and needed your help? Thirty-eight people in this very predicament chose to speak to the waylaid robot, whose task was to cross a busy city without a map or GPS. All it could do was ask directions.
A robot that can walk on water: such a miracle is one step closer to reality, thanks to some new research that learns from the work nature has done with water striders. Walking on water may seem like a superpower and the name scientists have give the property of the striders' legs is fitting: super-hydrophobia.
Ever suspect that someone is poking into your stuff when you're not at home? Or that instead of taking care of the kids the babysitter is doing you-know-what? Or that Spot only pretends she can't stand on her hind legs and talk when you're around? Then you might want invest in one of the new spybots on the market. (That, or get your head checked.)
No hooch-addled human in a bar likes to hear that he or she is being cut off. But what if the news came from a bowtie-wearing panda bear robot? Fewer fights, more peace in the world? That's the concept behind SOBEaR, the panda bear bartender who lets you (even wants you to!) breathe in its face, and then pours you the drink you should have -- rather than the one you want.
Does the world need another waifish fashion model who can make a limited number of facial expressions and whose main skill in life is walking jerkily down a catwalk? If you are the Japanese robotics industry, the answer is yes.
Earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones -- disasters like these make the natural environment both unnavigable and dangerous for human search-and-rescue teams. That's when it's time for robots to come to our rescue.
Earthquakes are a recurring problem in Japan, an archipelago that rests on four tectonic plates. Japan also happens to be a hotbed of robotics research, so the two have come together in surprising ways.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.