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Top 20 Robot Videos of 2010

Quadrotors performing acrobatics, ultrarealistic humanoids dancing, dexterous robots folding towels, and more

4 min read

Last year was an incredible time for robotics, and to recap the best robot moments of 2010 we decided to compile a list of our favorite videos. Check out below our selection -- going from No. 20 to the No. 1 -- and let us know what you think.

No. 20 Let's start off with the musculoskeletal humanoid Kojiro , built at the JSK Robotics Lab in Tokyo. With a body that mimics the way our skeletons and muscles work, it's surely one of the coolest -- and strangest -- robots of 2010. 


No. 19 Last year, the Stanford Racing Team showed one of the most extreme stunts a robotic car has ever pulled off: They taught their Junior vehicle to accelerate in reverse, then suddenly hit the brakes, turn the wheel, and start a 180-degree skid, ending up right in a desired parking spot. It's all for research!

No. 18 Built by University of Tokyo researchers, the Athlete robot uses artificial muscles to run like a human. Sort of. So far it can only perform a short dash, but hey, we're cheering for it. Run, Athlete robot, run.

No. 17 Among last year's robotics milestones is the emergence of commercial  telepresence robots. And Silicon Valley startup Anybots was probably first to hit the market with its skinny alien-looking QB robot, which made the future seem a little bit closer by allowing people to roam around embodied as robotic avatars.

No. 16 Another weird one, the Telenoid R1, created by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, is a telepresence robot with the body of a fetus, sperm, or Casper the Friendly Ghost, depending on who you ask.

No. 15 Boston Dynamics, famous for its BigDog quadruped, is also building a biped robot, called Petman. Last year, the company showed that the robot could run at 4.4 miles per hour (about 7 kilometers per hour). Can I get a pair of legs like that?

No. 14 It's always fun to see Honda's Asimo doing its thing. Last year, the astronaut-looking humanoid made an appearance at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, where it perform some old tricks as well as some new ones. You funny, Asimo.

No. 13 Speaking of Asimo, Iran seems to be a fan. Engineers at Tehran University built an adult-size humanoid called Surena. The robot can walk, stand on one foot, and even perform a little dance. It also loves to be on TV.

No. 12 Working to develop brain-machine interfaces to help paralyzed people, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh achieved an extraordinary result last year: They taught a monkey to control a 7-degrees-of-freedom robotic arm. Did we mention the monkey was using only its mind?

No. 11 Some engineers know how to have fun. At the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, in Tübingen, Germany, researchers decided to combine a massive KUKA manipulator arm and a Formula 1 video game. The result is the most awesome racing car simulator ever built.

No. 10 The Honda U3-X personal mobility device is not exactly a robot, but this amazing unicycle does use balancing technology from Asimo -- and it definitely comes from the future.

No. 9 It's hard to believe that researchers were able to make a swarm of bacteria build a tiny pyramid. We have news for you: now they want to use this type of bacteria to power microscopic robots -- inside your body!

No. 8 Though the U.S. military routinely uses robots to disarm bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, a video emerged last year showing a robot launching a bomb. The weaponized iRobot PackBot was capable of launching an explosive rope to eliminate obstacles and clear roads. That's an explosive video.

No. 7 Hiroshi Ishiguro has built some scary robots (including a copy of himself and the aforementioned Telenoid). But Geminoid F is another story. This ultrarealistic humanoid is a copy of a young Japanese woman and it can talk, move its eyes and head, frown, and smile. In fact, she even got a job.

No. 6 Quadrotors have been gaining popularity, and last year several groups demonstrated some impressive results. One group in particular, the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, stood out for its acrobatics, with its machines flying and looping through obstacles and even landing on vertical surfaces.

No. 5 Is this the most amazing adult-size humanoid ever built? Possibly. AIST's HRP-4 is sleek, athletic, and graceful, and few, if any, robots can move like it does. As one observer put it, it "will make you bow in deference."

No. 4 Robots with knives, robots with knives! This was one of our favorites stories of 2010. To study what kind of injury a knife-wielding robot might cause, German engineers built -- what else? -- a knife-wielding robot and set it loose on a pig carcass. But they didn't stop there. After devising a collision-detection system, the researchers were confident enough to test it on their own flesh.

No. 3 We're down to the final three videos, which feature very different robots but have one thing in common: They all captured people's imagination. First up is the humanoid HRP-4C, which last year showed off its dance moves along with a troupe of real human dancers in a video that went viral on the Net.

No. 2 In another popular story of 2010, U.C. Berkeley researchers programmed a PR2, an advanced robot developed by Willow Garage, to fold towels. Video of the robot neatly folding towel after towel was seen by tens of thousands of people soon after it was released. Which proves that people really hate folding towels. The PR2 was also responsible for several other cool videos in 2010 -- it could have its own top 20 videos list! -- like this one of the bot playing pool

And finally...

No. 1 Many of the robots above are extremely sophisticated and expensive systems and they are capable of performing formidable things. But sometimes simplicity and beauty win. Below is our choice for the No. 1 video of 2010. It shows a robot that balances on a ball. Beautiful.

What do you think of our list? Do you disagree with any of our choices? Think we forgot something? 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
LightGreen

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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