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  • 12.21.15

We Will Remember 2015 As The Year The Robot Revolution Began

Sure, they seem friendly and helpful now . . .

Robots in movies are usually clever, cute, and friendly. But for decades, real-life robots have been basically awkward, clumsy, and really not-so-smart hunks of metal. That’s drastically changed in the last two to three years, as both robot hardware and AI software have improved by leaps and bounds. This year, we’ve seen robots do all kinds of things that were previously the realm of sci-fi.

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Some are assisting us mere humans at all kinds of mundane tasks, such as making pancakes, folding laundry, forming new habits, and finding beer pong buddies. Others are extending human capabilities, especially in the area of prosthetics (see this drummer who plays better with his new robot hand than his original one) and surgery. Still, others are all-out replacing what humans do: Today, robots can be security guards, bus drivers, farmers, and journalists–and they haven’t hit their limit yet.

These advances have huge implications for the economy. But at a more individual level, the robot revolution is bringing a number of questions about how we will interact with our new overlords. Will they be friendly? Or mean? Can we trust robots? Or, as one crazy experiment with a hitchhiking robot asked, can robots trust us? (Judging by the results, probably not.)

1. Meet The Scary Little Security Robot That’s Patrolling Silicon Valley

The K5 never tires on patrols and only costs $6.25 an hour. But at least it’s not armed—for now.

2. This Cute Little Robot Is Designed To Help You Form Any Habit

To stick with a new challenge and really change your life, you’re going to need more than cold data of a fitness tracker or smartphone app.

3: This Squishy Robot Will Crush You At Beer Pong—And Then Change How We Make Prosthetics

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A re-rack isn’t going to help you now, silly humans.

4: For Breakfast, This Robot Will Make You The Pancakes It’s Learning How To Cook From Reading WikiHow

Understanding how to flip a pancake isn’t as obvious as it seems—if you’re a machine.

5: Hitchbot, The Hitchhiking Robot, Meets Its Untimely Demise At The Hands Of An Angry Human

After successful trips through other, friendlier countries, the adorable robot that requires the help of humans to get to his destination found a human who didn’t want to help.

via Hitchbot

6: How A 6-Year-Old Learned Coding Skills With These Adorable Robot Toys

If coding really is the new literacy, you’re going to want to start your kid early.

via Wonder Workshop

7: This Drummer’s Robot Hand Is Better At Drumming Than His Original Human Hand

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Sick cyborg beats.

8: Meet The Robots That Are Taking Over Japan

At this pace, the country’s robot population is going to outnumber people.

9: Robot Buses Are Coming To America, To Pave The Way For Driverless Cars

First, a quiet business park. Next, the world.

10: Watch A Surgical Robot Suture A Delicate Grape—And Pretend It’s Your Uterus

It’s mesmerizing to watch this surgical device work with such precision, but what does that precision get you?

11: This Drone Startup Has An Ambitious (Crazy) Plan To Plant 1 Billion Trees A Year

Why plant one tree when a drone can shoot pre-germinated seed pods at the ground without you lifting a finger?

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Oleg Golovnev via Shutterstock


12: Watch This Robot Submarine Hunt And Kill Reef-Destroying Starfish

Starfish eat reefs. We need reefs. So we must eliminate the starfish.

13: This Robot-Run Indoor Farm Can Grow 10 Million Heads Of Lettuce A Year

This massive Japanese vegetable factory saves water and energy—along with human labor.

14: Finally, A Robot That Can Fold Laundry

Too bad it’ll take the robot longer to fold your shirt than it’ll take you to fold the whole bag.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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