Must-Watch Robot Videos of the Month

The most striking, stunning, strange robot videos of January 2011

2 min read

Robotics is off to a good start this year. In January, there was CES, with lots of cool new robot products and demos, and we've also seen plenty of robot hacks using Microsoft's Kinect 3D sensor, which is creating quite a stir. But there was much more, of course, so it's time to review the most striking, stunning, and strange robot videos of January.

No. 10 This mind-bending action sequence from the Indian robot movie Enthiran is a must-watch. Insane, awesome, ridiculous? You be the judge.

No. 9 Students at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering near Boston, Mass., know how to build some cool stuff. Their latest creation is delicious. 

No. 8 DIY enthusiast Jose Julio's ArduSpider is an Arduino-based little critter capable of crawling, hopping, and scaring the bejesus out of the cat.

No. 7 Will the amazing, acrobatic quadrotors developed at University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab maybe build your next house?

No. 6 Watch IBM's HAL 9000 Watson, a Jeopardy-playing artificial intelligence system, destroying the human contestants in this practice match.

No. 5 Born at the University of Pennsylvania's Kod*lab, X-RHex is the latest member of the RHex family of robots. And like it siblings, it's one agile bot. 

No. 4 Why use sensor suits or haptic devices when you have Microsoft's Kinect? Check out this body-motion-controlled humanoid from Japan.

No. 3 In what was my favorite CES demo, writer Evan Ackerman stepped into the Cyberdyne HAL robot suit -- and became Iron Man.

No. 2 Hit a robot with a hammer and it will likely shatter into pieces. Nein! This German super-tough robotic hand won't. Did anyone say Terminator?

No. 1 Drones shooting fireworks at hydrogen balloons. Robot armageddon? Nope, just some Swedish RC hackers having fun in the woods.

Did we forget any? Let us know.

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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