This Week In Bots: Robochefs, Killer Toy Drones, Teacherbots, And More

As Stephen Hawking once said: "Unless mankind redesigns itself by changing our DNA through altering our genetic makeup, computer-generated robots will take over our world." So what developments in robotics happened this week?

robochef

Robot breakfast

We've seen research roboticists perform various odd tricks with their robots, but this one takes the pancake. In the name of developing techniques for dextrous control of objects that robots will encounter when working with people, and for designing cooperative robot systems, scientists took their PR2 robot called James to Germany, where it learned to work with a locally developed version of DLR's armed robot called Rosie. The two learned to collaborate to make breakfast. Seriously.

Though it sounds silly, it demonstrates amazingly high-tech developments in real-time sensing that lets the bots maneuver objects to perform a task—something that robot butlers and surgeons will need to do well.

Swarm bots on the cheap

Swarm robots may be incredibly useful tools for a number of specific tasks—like exploring large areas of other planets, performing certain types of medical procedures, and for aerial surveillance. The thing is, packing lots of high tech into a multitude of tiny robots can be expensive. Enter an effort from Harvard roboticist Michael Rubenstein—the $14 Kilobot. It uses a basic form of propulsion borrowed from bristlebot designs, but can communicate wirelessly with nearby peers to coordinate behaviors. The bot can be mass produced in mere moments, and definitely hints at one future for robotics.

Libyan rebels' killer remote control "toy" weapons

Forget BigDog, advanced autonomous spy drones and even UCAVs. When you've got no cash but lots of inspiration, and are facing a dire emergency, then innovation and cheap toys can help. That's what some Libyan rebels have found out, by modifying remote control cars to act as robot weapons—including mounting machine guns aboard them and basic video feed tech.

Bat copter

A fluttering bat may look like an awkward aerodynamic accident (face it, they're no seagulls soaring on the breeze with just a deft twitch of a feather) but actually bats' flying and navigation skills are extraordinary—they can flap their way through a dense cloud of other bats without colliding. Boston University scientists wanted to study this in order to design better algorithms for robot UAVs, and decided to fly a quadrocopter through a cloud of bats and record the reaction using high-resolution cameras and infrared imagers. To do this they built their own 'copter, and rigged it with soft buffers and a wire mesh to keep nearby bats out of range of its whirling props. The outcome? A clever jerry-rigged flying robot, and some excellent science.

Robokindergarten teacher

A robot kindergarten teacher? Yup. Korea's Robot Institute is trialing a Kiro robot in some schools to see how it works in a real educational environment. While Kiro's not stunningly high-tech, it compiles together a number of different technologies, including NFC card-enabled programs that kids can easily activate, into what seems to be a promising and inexpensive design. Kiro's large display also lets it work as a museum guide, and the company plans to market it nationally, in China, Europe, and the U.S.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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