Robot Highlights from Maker Faire

Spectrum associate editor Josh Romero on his favorite robots from the Faire:

If there's one thing you can count on at Maker Faire, it's the presence of robots. They're everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Sure, it was impossible to miss the giant electric giraffe, but size isn't everything.

Take Herbie the Mousebot (a robot kit from Solarbotics) - if you judged just by the number of delighted smiles and giggles coming from children's faces, this had to be the winner. The little robot has a light sensor that it uses to follow around a beam of light from a flashlight. It also has whisker and tail sensors that make it turn around when it hits your foot or starts to go under the couch. Brilliant! It's smart, cute, and simple. Made solely of discrete components, it looked fun both to build and to play with:

As cute as Herbie was, how could he possibly compete with one of the world's most loved androids? That's right, I'm talking about R2-D2. The R2-D2 Builder's Club were also a big hit at the Faire, showing off their handcrafted, chrome-domed creations. In some ways, they're even better than George Lucas's original (for one thing, they don't require a tiny man inside). Check out the video to see the droids in action and find out what makes them tick:

And I always have room for the just plain weird. Voxhead is a robot with a neck, head, and one arm. He sits on a table making bizzare sounds (even after you know that he's supposed to be singing Radiohead's "Creep," it still takes a lot of imagination). While it's easy to just slap a speaker on a robot to make it talk, Voxhead sings the hard way, by replicating the human vocal cavity (complete with artificial tongue). Its creator, Mike Brady wants to use Voxhead to probe the ways we learn to communicate - the robot itself learns by listening to its own attempts to mimic sound and trying to improve. Voxhead's the android equivalent of a babbling baby. Take a listen yourself:

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