Until today, the grossest robot we'd ever had the pleasure of meeting was Ecobot, which poops. This robot is much, much grosser. Its name is Vomiting Larry, and it's designed to do one thing: puke just like a human.
Vomiting Larry is a humanoid simulated vomiting system. He may be the only humanoid simulated vomiting system in existence, but we certainly don't need more than one, and even just one may be one puking robot too many. Vomiting Larry is doing some important work, though: he's being used to research the spread of noroviruses, which cause humans to projectile vomit, spreading the virus all over the place. This is no joke; here's a description from Wikipedia:
"Vomiting, in particular, transmits infection effectively. In one incident a person who vomited spread infection right across a restaurant. 126 people were dining at six tables; one woman vomited. Staff quickly cleaned up, and people continued eating. Three days later others started falling ill; 52 people reported a range of symptoms. More than 70% of the diners on an adjacent table fell ill; at a table on the other side of the restaurant, the rate was still 25%."
Noroviruses can be aerosolized in vomit, and all it takes is a handful of virus cells to infect you. Vomiting Larry's job is to puke its lack of guts out, and then researchers get to measure how far the virus travels and at what concentrations over a variety of surfaces to be better understand how it's transmitted.
Watch the action in the video below, starting at around 2:40:
Noroviruses are responsible for 21 million illnesses in the United States every year, second only to the common cold. If you get one, it probably won't kill you, but you can look forward to nausea, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of taste, general lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headache, coughs, and a low-grade fever. Oh, and of course, "forceful vomiting."
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.