Robot roundup: Meet the best (and sometimes most bizarre) bots in Barcelona

Despite what the name implies, Mobile World Congress isn’t just about phones, tablets, wearables, and the like. As one of the premiere tech events of the year, the show is also host to a broad range of other technologies — and this year, we saw more robots roaming around than ever before. Here are a few of our favorites that we found buzzing around the show floor in Barcelona.

Starship Technologies Delivery Bot

While Amazon and Dominoes want to deliver pizza and toothpaste from the air, Starship Technologies is busy working on a completely different approach — delivery bots that drive around on solid ground. Helmed by two former Skype co-founders, the company is developing a delivery platform that works with existing infrastructure (roads and sidewalks). The robots, which look like six-wheeled robotic coolers, are capable of carrying two grocery bags worth of goods, and can navigate from a storage facility to your front door autonomously.

Pepper the Human-like Robot

Pepper was first unveiled back in 2014, but that doesn’t make her any less impressive. Pepper (which the company’s literature refers to as a boy, but whose name and voice clearly suggest she’s a girl) is designed to be the first robot to recognize human emotions. Inside her adorable little head, Pepper boasts four microphones, two HD cameras (in the mouth and forehead), and a 3D depth sensor (behind the eyes).

These sensors allow the bot to pick up on speech patterns and facial expressions, and to use these cues to recognize the emotional state of anyone she interacts with. Right now the tech is fairly limited (it can only detect frowns and smiles), but Pepper is expected to get much better in the future, as IBM is going to outfit her with a special version of its brilliant Watson technology.

Sony Xperia Agent

If R2D2 somehow bumped uglies with an Amazon Echo, the resulting offspring would probably look (and function) a lot like Sony’s Xperia Agent. The bot is essentially a multifunctional smart hub equipped with a rotating camera, a two-way microphone, a speaker system, a projector, and Wi-Fi — so it can perform a wide range of different tasks, including information retrieval, message delivery, and even automated control of your home appliances. Using its microphone, for example, the Agent could recognize when you walk into your house, and then automatically turn on your lights for you. The concept isn’t too new, but Sony has taken it a few steps further than anyone else has, and we like where it’s headed.

Sharp RoBoHoN

Smartphones all tend to look alike these days, so in an effort to break free and distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, Sharp has developed an odd new device called RoBoHoN. In the words of DT’s senior mobile reporter Andy Boxall, the device is “like a cross between Pepper the Robot and a Lego mini figure.” Standing just under 8 inches tall, this little bot can take calls, read emails, and even snap pictures of you and your friends at your next social gathering.  It’s controlled primarily via voice commands; although RoBoHoN does have a small touchscreen on its back for tasks that are more complex. Just watch the video — this is definitely the most Japanese thing we saw at MWC this year.

LG Rolling Bot

Ever wish you could check up on your house when you’re away at work, or out on vacation? If LG’s rolling bot ever makes it to production, you might soon be able to. This little bot, which looks something like a BB-8 droid with its head cut off, is designed to work like a free roaming security bot that you can control remotely. Once the bot is connected to your home Wi-Fi network, you can use an accompanying mobile app to drive the little bugger around your house and see what’s going on. But that’s not even the coolest part. The pièce de résistance is this thing called “Pet Mode,” which basically allows you to remotely control a laser pointer and play with your cat or dog when you’re away from home. Pretty sweet, right?

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