CES 2011 Robot Roundup

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Tablets, TVs, e-readers, smartphones, and 3D glasses are great and all, but let’s face it: robots are the future. They’re metal, they’re shiny, they’re creepy, and they’re at CES. Before we left the show last week, we took a trip to the Robotics Zone of the South Hall to see what animatronic miracles were conjured up this year. Unfortunately, all the fuss over touch screens and telephones has lead to a serious shortage of crazy robotronic gizmos.

A message to the inventors of the world: we’d like to see a lot more useless, awesome mechanical creations next year. Until then, check out our complete 2011 Robot Roundup!

Paro, a therapeutic baby seal

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Nothing calms the nerves like cuddling with a robotic baby harp seal. At least, that’s what the makers of Paro the therapeutic robot have been banking on. Developed in Japan where animals aren’t allowed in many hospitals and nursing homes, this cuddly little guy is made to comfort and assist in therapy for the injured and elderly. Paro has tactile sensors all over it and responds to temperature, light, posture, petting, and touching by moving around and closing its eyes. Over time it actually develops its own character and recognizes familiar people through vision and voice recognition, reps told us.

It even makes sounds that are supposedly pretty similar to a baby seal, or so we’re told. We can’t verify the accuracy of this robot because none of us are crazy enough to go near an actual seal. Those things are dangerous. If you’re wondering about that pacifier, it serves a dual purpose. Not only does it make Paro look more adorable, it also charges the robot.

In the video above, Kelly interacts with the Paro and instantly begins to want one of her own. It was too loud on the show floor to try it, but the Paro can learn names, greetings, and praise with its audio sensors. It even remembers your patterns of action and will expect you to, say pet it after rubbing it in the future. Pavlov would be proud. You can buy a Paro of your own for about $4,8000 or lease one for $200 a month.

Pleo, an animatronic pet dinosaur

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I had a lot of dinosaur toys growing up (one even walked), but none like Pleo, by Innvo Labs. This toy robot is designed to look and act like a week-old baby Camarasaurus. Designed by the co-creator of Furby, Pleo seems much more lifelike than the Paro seal. It walks and communicates in its own language with camera vision, two microphones for hearing, four foot switches that detect surfaces, a tilt sensor that recognizes its body position, and infrared vision. Each Pleo also has fourteen force-feedback sensors (one per joint) and eight touch sensors on the head, chin, shoulders, feet, and back, so it knows when you pet or grab it. Pretty freaky, right? Even crazier, the dinosaur can detect beats, allowing it to dance to music and if another Pleo is nearby, the two dinosaurs will talk to each other, warning of obstacles and interacting in different ways. With different programmed objects, Pleo can learn new abilities like singing, counting, and tug-of-war.

It sounds cool on paper, but it’s cooler to actually interact with it. I’m not sure what the age demographic is for a toy like this, but it’s certainly fun to pet and watch on the show floor. Pleo costs $350 and comes with a bunch of accessories.

Robovie R3, a guiding robot

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I don’t have a strong working relationship with the Robovie R3, by Vstone and ATR. When I tried to shake its hand, the jerk pulled away, faking me out. And when a robot specifically designed to greet people doesn’t want to shake your hand, you know you have a problem. Robovie, a three-foot robot that can move around, spent most of its time autonomously moving around the CES show floor greeting people. It’s intended to help the elderly and physically challenged get around. It has 11 touch sensors in its body, 2 USB cameras for eyes, 2 microphones for ears, a speaker so it can talk, and a laser range finder to judge distance. To move around, it has 15 servomotors that give it 17 degrees of freedom. It also has an optional second design that has buggier eyes and a painted mouth.

The video above shows Robovie interacting with people on the show floor. It seems highly unafraid of anyone. You can also watch it reject my handshake. Robovie is still a work in progress, but if you’d like your own, a mere $41,000 will buy you your first robotic buddy.

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