Robocop (Credit: MGM)Wish you had your own personal robot housemaid? Hope you like your roomba, because George Jetson’s Rosie the Robot has yet to hit the mass market.
But while robots might not be doing our laundry and keeping the kids in line just yet, they’re already among us -- and outperforming us in a worrying number of areas. Are you ready to feel obsolete? Read on to meet a few robots make us soft, fleshy humans look positively outdated.
Ability: Runs like a, uh, cheetah
A creation of robotic innovators Boston Dynamics, Cheetah is well named. Though it’s not quite as fast as the legendary big cat, it’s a darn sight faster than you. It can reach a sustainable speed of nearly 30 MPH -- a clear 1.5 MPH ahead of Usain Bolt at his absolute maximum -- and likely at least twice what normal people could maintain for any distance.
Impressive though that is, Boston Dynamics still has some work to do. A slight balance problem means Cheetah can’t run on its own just yet -- it requires a supporting arm to hold it up. Picture it as the equivalent of Usain Bolt after one too many celebratory Red Stripes. Don’t get complacent, though: it’s just a teething problem, really, and once the geniuses have the software sorted, you may be able to hide, but you won’t be able to run from this metal beast.
Ability: Explores the cosmos!
Let’s face it: the days of intrepid Indiana Jones-style explorers are long gone. We’ve been just about everywhere it’s feasible for us to go, save the deepest depths of the ocean and the farthest reaches of outer space. Neither are particularly comfortable for us, but for robots, the final frontiers aren’t such a big deal.
Take NASA’s Robonaut, a humanoid creation of a team at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Currently just a torso mounted on a fixed pedestal, soon he’ll have a variety of interchangeable bases: legs, four-wheeled rover-type carts, and even one based on a Segway. One Robonaut is already installed on the International Space Station, where he’s assisting the crew with particularly delicate experiments. If you want to make sure he’s not up to any HAL-9000 shenanigans, you can even follow him on Facebook.
The burger-making Alpha (Credit: Momentum Machines)
Ability: Makes over 350 burgers per hour
Millions of workers got their start on the fry machine at the local fast-food joint, but San Francisco-based Momentum Machines is aiming to change that with a futuristic vision of flipping burgers.
The company's Alpha machine is a burger-making wunderkind that's a serious kitchen workhorse. Running on a conveyor belt system, the machine grinds, shapes and grills to order. It will even wait to slice up condiments until just before serving to maintain freshness. Not only can the Alpha crank out hundreds of meals in under an hour, but Momentum Machines believes it's so cost-effective that it should encourage restaurants to use better meat and fresher condiments.
Abilities: Hauls heavy loads, throws a mean rock
He’s the size of, well, a big dog. He has four legs. And not only can he use his single arm to lift a cinderblock, he can even throw it an impressive (not to mention slightly terrifying) distance. Not bad for a 240 pound robot, but what’s even more surprising is that BigDog can keep his balance on those spindly legs for the duration.
Although he’d doubtless bring home the gold at the Robot Olympics shot-put, what good is a rock-throwing robot, really? Think of it more as a demonstration of strength and mobility, both factors that are of great interest to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Department of Denfense’s high-tech weapons development wing. They’re hoping to put BigDog to use fetching and carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. With any luck it won’t get bored and run off to chase a squirrel.
Coralbot (Credit: Heriot-Watt University/BBC)
Ability: Keeps our reefs in tip top shape
You probably wouldn’t find it all that difficult to repair a coral reef. Most techniques involve reattaching fallen coral pieces or introducing artificial structures like concrete spheres to shore up existing structures. What you might find significantly harder, though, is diving to the reef in the first place -- not to mention staying down there long enough to complete your laborious task.
Enter the Coralbots. Freed from the troublesome human need to breathe oxygen on a regular basis, these three-foot-tall robotic submersibles act in groups to repair coral reefs far faster than even the best of divers. In development at Scotland’s Heriott-Watt university, they’re planned for deployment later this year.