Top 3 robots of 2007

Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year is almost upon us. Time for a look at the past yearâ''s new robots and to pick some winners!

Candidates include, among many others, WowWee's Dragonfly, Roboquad and Elvis robots, the iRobot Create, the Sony Rolly only available in Japan, Ijspeert's salamander robot locomoting in and out of water, Dean Kamen's prosthetic robotic arm, the SARCOS exoskeleton doubling as a remote controlled android, Honda's Asimo with its latest skill of serving tea as well as countless humanoid toys like the i-SOBOT.

The Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has already gone ahead and named their robot of the year 2007: A handling system by FANUC Ltd with M-430iA robot arms and visual tracking (check out a video clip). Their runner-ups include a host of industrial and service robots.

I've decided to give naming a "Top 3 of 2007" a shot and held a long debate - mostly with myself as I will admit - to pick my personal favorites. My kinds of robots are not those on the factory floors, but those you and I can see and interact with out on the streets, in offices or in our homes. And after some consideration, all the new humanoids didn't make my list - they may have the greatest potential, but I think they are still very far from being useful beyond amusement and are simply way too expensive. Here are the 3 that did make my list of favorite robots in 2007:

3. BeatBot's Keepon

The toy robot Keepon developed by the BeatBots project, Keepon dances to music (make sure to check out the video). Similar to last year's hilarious Tickle Me Elmo robot, Keepon is based on a simple idea, a simple design, but is fantastically well done. Somebody please tell me why they won't sell it!

2. Ugobe's Pleo

Another toy â'' but hey, thatâ''s where consumer robotics stands in 2007. But the Pleo is an exceptionally cool toy: The baby dino uses an impressive sensor suite in combination with an AI that allows it to develop distinct personalities according to user interactions. Pleo performs a large range of actions, including trembling in fear, wagging its tail and dancing with happiness, playing dead and sneezing - and you can train it! With the long awaited Pleo, the people at Ugobe have reached a new level of user interaction and - as some people claim - intelligence for a robot toy.

1. The DARPA Urban Challenge Robots

For me the title for robot of the year 2007 goes to the winners of the Urban Challenge. Winners, because three robots performed exceptionally well: Carnegie Mellon University's Tartan Racing robot Boss, Stanford racing team's Junior and Virginia Tech's Victor Tango. Although their times in the race differed, all three robots far exceeded expectations. And thinking back to the first Grand Challenge in 2004, it is truly unbelievable how far robot technology has advanced in this field.

Miss a robot in the list? Disagree with my judgment? Or ready to compile your own top 3, 4, 5, ... 10? Feel free to post your comments!

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