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.

Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Earth Day, indoor container farming, robot submarines

Today on Digital Trends Live, we discuss how technology intersects with Earth Day, a new Tim Cook biography, indoor container farming, robot spy submarines, A.I. death metal, and more.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

Russia’s robot news anchor gives human TV presenters hope

Human news anchors anxious about robots taking their jobs will be feeling reassured this week after the appearance on Russian TV of a news-reading android that clearly needs a bit of work.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Hawaiian botanists’ drone discovers a plant thought to be lost forever

In what may well be a world first, botanists in Hawaii recently used a drone to find a species of plant that scientists believed was extinct. The plant was located on a sheer cliff face nearly 20 years after its last sighting.