The World's Coolest Robots

Japan is famous for creating robots, so why aren't they being used to help end the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi? A robotics expert tells Dan Lyons they'll be used soon—but don't expect a SWAT team of smart, autonomous Terminators.

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Watson

Watson is an artificial intelligence supercomputer that’s capable of answering questions posed to it by the human tongue. As a test of its ability, the computer squared off against former Jeopardy! champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in February. It was a massacre, with Watson ending up $35,734 to Rutter’s $10,400, and Jennings’ $4,800.  IBM’s DeepQA project, the team who designed Watson told The Daily Beast, “The first industry we will provide the Watson technology to is to the healthcare industry, to help physicians improve patient care.” They added that Watson would be used to improve energy management, help insurance agents understand coverage policies, and help with people’s travel planning.

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ASIMO

Created by the car manufacturer Honda, this humanoid robot, standing four foot three inches and weighing 119 lbs., resembles a small astronaut wearing a backpack, and can walk or run (awkwardly) on both feet at speeds up to 3.7 mph. While the original model was developed in 2000, the most recent ASIMO model was released in 2005, and possesses the ability to walk along with its owner, move objects, and even deliver drinks on a tray. The robots were designed to eventually assist the elderly and disabled, but, “Aside from ASIMO’s occasional U.S. tours, though, it spends most of its time greeting visitors at Toyota’s offices in Japan,” according to PCmag.com.

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PaPeRo

Short for “Partner-type Personal Robot,” this adorable little robotic critter is a companion robot created by the Japanese tech company NEC. The PaPeRo possesses a variety of devices that allow it to interact with its environment, including two cameras for eyes, four microphones for ears—equipped with a speech recognition system, and an ultrasound device in its chest that allows it to detect certain objects. Moreover, it has three wheels for legs. The robot was designed in 2001 as a way for people to better communicate with the Internet, and it understands over 3,000 words, and can communicate with people. If you ignore it, the robot will become lazy. Several updated PaPeRo models have since been introduced, including the PaPe-Jiro--a robotic comedian, and in 2009, the PaPeRo Mini, which includes a small LCD monitor on the front of its chest.

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Toyota Partner Robots

Not to be outdone by their Japanese car manufacturing competition Honda, Toyota decided to develop a pair of humanoid robots, dubbed the “Mobility Robot” and the “Violin-playing Robot.” The former is a robotic chair-like device equipped with wheels and a total of 17 movable joints, and was designed to provide short-distance personal transport. And, standing 5 feet tall, the “ Violin-playing Robot” can not only assist with domestic duties as well as nursing and medical care, but also possess advanced hand and arm flexibility allowing them to play several songs on either the violin or the trumpet.

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Saya, Robot Teacher

First developed as a receptionist/secretary robot back in 2004, this human-looking robot was tested in a classroom in early 2009. In addition to its human-like appearance, Saya can express six basic human emotions—surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness, and sadness—because its face is made of stretchy rubber skin controlled by motors and wiring. It can also say simple, preprogrammed phrases like “Thank you,” while expressing pleasure. "Robots that look human tend to be a big hit with young children and the elderly," Hiroshi Kobayashi, Tokyo University of Science professor and Saya's developer, told The Associated Press. "Children even start crying when they are scolded." However, Kobayashi has confessed that the machine is merely a learning tool, and will not be a replacement for teachers. He’s currently constructing a line of made-to-order Saya’s that will set you back about $51,000 apiece.

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Roxxxy, Sex Robot

This one’s a little icky. Termed a “sex robot,” Roxxxy is a full-size interactive sex doll built by TrueCompanion. The busty gynoid is 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighs 120 lbs., and possesses soft, flesh-colored synthetic skin, as well as artificial intelligence that allows it to learn its owners (sexual) likes and dislikes. The doll was first unveiled at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in January 2010, and, unfortunately for pervs, Roxxxy does not possess the ability to move its limbs. However, it can carry on a limited discussion with its owner, and even snores (post-coitus?). The robot will run you between $7,000 and $9,000, plus a subscription fee.

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ANDROS Bomb-Defusing Robot

You may have seen this high-tech device spelling Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker. Designed by REMOTEC and offered in six different variations, the ANDROS is a series of remote control military robots used by explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) units in the military, as well as law enforcement or SWAT teams. The robots contain several tool mounts, a versatile array of two-way audio and video sensors, wheels, and a robotic arm to help in bomb disposal. These robots usually act as first responders, assessing the nature of the explosive device in question before specialists go in to diffuse the bomb. There are currently over 1,000 of these ANDROS robots in action around the globe.

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NASA Robonaut 2

With its Storm Trooper-like appearance NASA’s Robonaut 2 looks like something out of Star Wars. A dexterous, humanoid astronaut helper, the R2 launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in February. The crew will first mock up chores on a task board for the R2 to master, and then it will be able to help astronauts by wiping handrails, vacuuming air filters, and doing a variety of other mundane tasks to help the crew. The ultimate goal of the R2 is to help NASA astronauts with extravehicular activities (EVAs) like walking in space. They can also act as a first responder in the event of an emergency, and stay outside working as long as possible. "There are so many possibilities for the future," said Ambrose. "For instance, we could add wheels so R2 could scout a potential landing site on a planet or an asteroid or set up a workstation or habitat there. Someday R2 may even get a jetpack! But we have to crawl before we can fly."

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Mars Rovers

Since 2003, this pair of robotic rovers – MER-A Spirit and MER-B Opportunity--have been participating in an ongoing space mission to the planet Mars, with the objective of finding clues related to the possibility of past or future water activity on the Red Planet. The rovers parachute onto Mars, and move around via six wheels mounted on a suspension system. They’re each equipped with antennas to transmit data back to Earth, as well as a series of  scientific instruments, including a Panoramic Camera to assess the structure of the local terrain; a Navigation Camera for navigating purposes; and a Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, that identifies tiny rocks and soils, and determines the processes that formed them.