Robots that Live Among Us

Mars Rover

As we all learned from Terminator, artificially intelligent machines will one day conduct a systematic extermination of all human life forms and turn the Earth into one gigantic robot playground. But until that day comes, robots are our friends.

From heavy industry to the toy industry, devices that perform at least some automatic functions have been with us for quite some time. But in this roundup, we’ll look at robots that go far beyond the basics. Some benefit humanity as a whole. Some are already at work in the corporate world, handling complex or tedious tasks and situations that even a decade ago seemed impossible. Some point the way to a better future, others impress with their ability to mimic life forms, and still others make us feel a bit apprehensive as we come to grips with their tremendous power and potential.

No, there’s not a Terminator or Rosie the Robot in the bunch, though there is one that costs more than the annual economic output of some countries and is designed to function for a mere two years. And that alone is almost as frightening as the former. Or perhaps as ridiculous as the latter, depending on your perspective.


Cynics may suggest, and rightfully so, that he’s nothing but a walking, talking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, food-serving, object-grasping, human-mimicking Honda PR campaign. Yet the fact that ASIMO is able to do any of the above, never mind all of it, is reason enough for his inclusion in our robot roundup. Currently sporting a total of thirty-four degrees of freedom (and therefore no less than thirty-four servo motors) within his humanoid joints, the four-foot-tall, 119-pound ASIMO certainly looks the part in just about everything he does.

Perhaps one day in the next decade or two, if Honda engineers have their way, ASIMO will serve humanity as a fully autonomous caregiver or healthcare worker, rather than simply a sophisticated Honda advertisement. But he amazes even now, if just for his ability to allow us to glimpse into the future.


Even as we get set to swing into the second decade of the 21st century, fully autonomous (self-governing) robots – beyond the assembly line type – remain a rarity. Some robots look like they know what they’re doing, but the vast majority merely behave as their human operators tell them to behave. One notable exception to the rule is the UK National Oceanography Centre’s Autosub 3, a seven-foot-long torpedo-shaped submersible that’s currently pulling duty in the Antarctic, mapping the seabed and charting the undersides of ice floes in a venture to potentially help determine the cause of melting ice.

“Autosub is a completely autonomous robot,” says Autosub team leader Steve McPhail. “There are no connecting wires with the ship and no pilot. Autosub has to avoid collisions with the jagged ice overhead and the unknown seabed below, and return to a predefined rendezvous point, where we crane it back onboard the ship.”

We wish the Autosub well on its lonely but oh-so-important journey. Its earlier sister ship, the Autosub 2, was lost forever when it malfunctioned under Antarctica’s Fimbul Ice Shelf in 2005.


A 1992 spin-off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, robotics research firm Boston Dynamics has since gained a number of high-end, high-tech playmates (the US Armed Forces, and Sony), and is now at the forefront of making creepy stuff that reminds us of scenes from various Star Wars movies. Though its four-legged concoction named BigDog doesn’t actually live among us because it’s still in the developmental womb, we felt it deserved mention here on account of its staggering potential and, well, watching it in action is way too cool.

BigDog is just one of several walking, animalistic robots Boston Dynamics has in its arsenal. Indeed, the company has just announced a new program whereby it will develop in conjunction with the US Military a shape-shifting centipede of sorts that deflates to squeeze through teeny-tiny spaces. Its name? The SquishBot. Check out BigDog and several other Boston Dynamics robots in action.

Kiva Mobile Fulfillment SystemKiva Mobile Fulfillment System

In some cases, a robot is only as good as the environment it’s dropped into. Fortunately, Kiva Systems has built some pretty darn good periphery around the pallet-moving robotic drive units that form the basis of its Kiva Mobile Fulfillment System. In a Kiva-powered warehouse, the goods reside in the center of the floor in shelving units, and humans are stationed on the perimeter. When an order is received, the Kiva robots spring into action and move, via a series of bar codes stuck on the floor and a wi-fi communications network, to position themselves under the racks containing that order’s merchandise. They then lift the rack and transport it to the human worker, who utilizes a series of scanners and lasers to choose the correct items from the rack. Once the item is scanned and verified, the Kiva robots automatically move the racks back to their original home. How efficient is Kiva? Efficient enough that businesses such as Walgreens, Staples, and online shoe retailer have become Kiva converts.

M-2000iA M-2000iA

Robotic arms and cranes aren’t exactly new to the industrial world. But one that can lift more than a ton of dead weight is. In its M-2000iA/1200, Michigan-based FANUC Robotics has created what it claims is the “world’s largest and strongest six-axis robot” with the “longest reach and strongest wrist” yet developed. Designed for such tasks as accurately positioning automotive vehicle bodies and assembling heavy machine tool components, the unit is intended to replace manually controlled cranes. And, of course, it will be the muscle in the upcoming robot uprising, where crazed machines will wreak untold havoc on the human population of earth.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (February 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.
Emerging Tech

Engineer turns his old Apple lle into an wheeled robot, and even gives it a sword

How do you give new life to a 30-year-old computer? Software engineer Mike Kohn found a way by transforming his old Apple IIe into a wheeled robot. Check it out in all its 1980s glory.
1 of 2