Born to hug: 6 of the weirdest, most outlandish robots humanity has ever created

Whether it’s carrying out search and rescue missions or performing life-saving surgery, there are some astonishing robots in existence that promise to change the world as we know it. But for every mainstream Atlas robot, there are plenty of other, more unusual creations — and they’re every bit as worth celebrating.

Here are six of the wackiest robot concepts we’ve covered here at Digital Trends:

A robot for ruining Where’s Waldo?

Remember how much fun you had as a kid scouring the pages of Where’s Waldo? books, looking for the elusive Waldo with his red-and-white-striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses? A lot has changed since you were a kid — and nothing underlines that fact more than “There’s Waldo.”

The brainchild of creative technologist Matt Reed, “There’s Waldo” is a robot that’s capable of finding Waldo in a packed crowd in less than 4.5 seconds. After identifying the character using its impressive image recognition capabilities, it reaches out a silicon hand and points out Waldo’s location.

Why? We guess for much the same reason we spent so long as kids staring at packed crowd drawings, searching for Waldo in the first place: Because it’s a fun challenge.

Shoe-tying robot

If you don’t have time to tie a pair of laces a couple of times a day, you probably don’t have time to wait for a robot to spend four minutes tying each shoe. But that didn’t stop engineers from the University of California, Davis’ College of Engineering from building a robot that’s capable of a pair of tying shoelaces.

While it’s difficult to think of too many real world applications for a robot such as this (although we guess it could be a useful accessibility tool), it’s nonetheless an impressive example of robot dexterity. And with just two motors and an imposed budget limit of just $600, it manages this within some fairly hefty constraints.

Stone-skimming robot

Created by former NASA engineer-turned-YouTuber Mark Rober, this unusual robot was designed with one goal in mind: to skip stones better than anyone has skipped them before.

Skippa was created by modifying a clay pigeon thrower, and then adding customized wooden throwing arms and a box base to give it more stability. Rober’s niece and nephew finally stepped in to give it the final, all-important stylistic flourishes in the form of a colorful paint job and googly eye makeover. You know, the ingredients ever self-respecting robot needs!

A robot serenader

It’s every movie-loving tech geek’s dream: a ukulele-plucking robot that can sooth your tired soul at the end of each day with the theme from The Godfather. That’s what the Polish engineers behind UkuRobot have built with their latest robotic creation, and it is pretty darn awesome.

“It’s controlled via Bluetooth by software of our own design, that allows us to compose and play any song we want,” the UkuRobot team member known only as Jakub told Digital Trends. “The user is also able to play separate notes and chords — so it’s like playing the instrument traditionally, but using only your computer mouse. Excellent choice for fans of live music.”

A robot powered by… popcorn?

Call it Cornell’s kernels if you want: this unorthodox robot from engineers at Cornell University is powered by popping popcorn kernels. In a recent demonstration, the researchers showed that it’s possible to power a robot gripper by heating popcorn either with microwaves or direct contact using a hot Nichrome wire.

While popcorn kernels can’t be unpopped, thereby giving this a big disadvantage over existing batteries, they are biodegradable and cheap enough to be easily replaced. Maybe not such a wacky idea after all!

A robot that gives you hugs

A smart speaker might play you the right song at the right time, but it’s never going to give you a comforting hug when you’re feeling down. However, that feature is most definitely offered by HuggieBot, a robot created by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany.

At present, HuggieBot takes the form of a modified PR2 robot covered in softy layers of foam, polyester, and other materials. Its hugs can be modified according to the firmness of embrace you prefer (thanks to a pressure sensor), and you even have the option of a heated hug for special occasions.

The researchers think HuggieBot could eventually have therapeutic applications, and are actively investigating ways for the robot to determine how users are feeling so as to know when to make its presence felt.

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