This Week In Bots: Stinky Bots, Lovable Bots, Biting Bots, Crashing Bots, And More

What’s been happening this week in the world of robotics? Read on to find out how much more clever/terrifying/increasingly useful the cyber-hood has become.

mouth bot


Flinching dental bot

You’d rather have a trainee dentist practice on a dummy before taking the drill to your sensitive molars, wouldn’t you? Yes, indeed. But a simple rubber dummy, no matter how anatomically correct, won’t flinch or gulp like you do when you’re strapped into the chair…and that makes for a non-ideal training situation.

Enter a robo-dummy from Showa University in Japan, the first commercial product of a decade of research. Showa Hanako 2 can sneeze, cough, gag, and clamp her jaws down when she’s afraid of an approaching tool. She can recognize language, engage in basic conversation, and she even scores her students on how well they deal with procedures.

Does that make you feel better about a trip to the dentist? It should. Until you imagine the facial tech bolted to a walking talking android. We’ll stop now.


Love your robot

Can you love a robot? I mean, the Roomba I just bought is kinda adorable when it beetles around the apartment vaccuming up stuff, but it’s not lovable. Keepon is one heck of a groovy bugger, and cute to boot, but his robo soul is impenetrable. That’s a situation Hooman Samani, an AI researcher at the National University of Singapore, is trying to change with a whole new field of Lovotics. It’s based in some science, some psychology, some thinking about how robots are definitely going to be part of our lives. Oh, and since lovable robots could, Samani thinks, “communicate” with bleeps and bloops, it’s probably based a little on R2-D2, too.

One thing to ponder: Will we be seeing custody battles over the house bot soon enough?

The next-gen in cruise control


Cruise control on long freeway journeys is a blessing. It saves you from that locked right ankle pain, and lets you relax your legs a lot. But you still have to steer, and pay attention to sudden slowdowns ahead of you. For now, that is, because Volkswagen has enhanced cruise control a long way toward being a robot copilot.

Now lane-assist driving tech and cruise control have been around a while, so why’s no one blended them together before? Now VW has not only added them together, it’s created a system that traveling salesmen will adore: It can keep your car in your lane, slow down at bends, obey speed limits, turn corners, and–here’s the biggie–automatically stop, start, and creep in traffic jams. Hoo boy. VW notes you still have to pay attention and intervene if necessary, but for many a long-distance ride this tech (dubbed Temporary Auto Pilot) will be a huge boon. Check an early prototype below:

Bot B.O.?


When you think robot, you think cool, calm, clean, mechanical, right? Something that’s as far from the messiness of humans as possible. So why would you give one armpits?

That’s a question designer Kevin Grennan tackled, developing the evil looking thing you can see above that actually spurts out gusts of chemicals that match a genuine sweaty human underarm. It’s not to test deodorants, though–Grennan suggests it may find use on devices like bomb disposal robots, since the aroma of sweat has been proven to “enhance cognitive function.” Color us dubious, particularly as Grennan also imagines robot surgeons emitting oxytocin–the happy chemical that’s proven to increase trust, with the intention of pacifying pre-surgical patients. As long, we imagine, as the stench is not too wicked.

Programmable pancakes

Robots needn’t cost the hundreds of thousands of dollars that gizmos like PR2 do, and hobbyists still have a vital place in robotic development. Case in point: A programmable robotic pancake maker. Read that again. Yup: Made of Lego Mindstorms robotic kits and a real honest-to-goodness griddle, it works, and is a tiny preview of the luxury you may experience one day when your robo-butler rustles up some brekkie.


Quadrocopter fails

We’ve been dazzled by amazing aerial stunts pulled by quadrocopters, alone or in teams, but we never get to see the painful crashes that mark this type of robotic research as different from the rest. Until now, when the amazing UPenn GRASP lab shares the accidents that’re a natural part of their advanced flying robot research.

Expensive? Probably. Dangerous? Possibly. Fun? Yep.

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


About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)