With that in mind, it seems only natural to pay homage to some of the best robots over the last year. From taco deliveries and planet hoppers to pack mules and cheetah bots, here are just a few of our favorites of 2012.
We first met AlphaDog last year, when it was still a very rough prototype. AlphaDog, also known as LS3, will eventually serve US troops as a sturdy “pack mule” robot and be able to haul up to 400 pounds per trek. While AlphaDog won’t be finalized until 2014, in 2012 it learned to respond to voice commands, follow a person, and stand back up after falling over.
The super-swimmer: PacX Wave Glider
While there are plenty of impressive human swimmers out there, not many could say they swam from San Francisco to Hervey Bay, Queensland. The little PacX Wave Glider robot fought a variety of tides and weather to swim 9000 nautical miles, reaching its destination in just over 365 days. This was all done autonomously, setting a new record for the longest distance travelled by an autonomous vehicle.
When robots take over the world, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves. These self-assembling robots, shown off at the Intelligent Robots and Systems 2012 conference, are an unholy co-mingling of ground-based and arial automatons. Flying drones communicate with ground swarm robots via LEDs to help them establish the best formation to take, depending on environment. Both visually pleasing and interesting possibilities — like getting the chores done.
Wheelchairs climb stairs
A wheelchair is a vital piece of equipment to those with a variety of disabilities, but at present they do come with limitations. This year, the Chiba Institute of Technology presented its robotic wheelchair concept—a chair with legs as well as wheels. Each independent leg can move to climb stairs or objects, while you sit in moderate comfort.
The Mars Rover
2012 most popular robot is arguably NASA’s Curiosity rover. This car-sized robot successfully landed on Mars (after the seven minutes of terror ) in August, and has since gone on all sorts of adventures on the Red Planet—with plenty of pictures, data, and samples to show for it. It will remain on Mars for a while yet, and we can’t wait to see what else it finds.
More robots try to banish loneliness
We covered a few robots and gadgets that try to keep you company this year, but one of the most intriguing was MH-2, the shoulder-sitting robot. The legless robot serves as an avatar of sorts for your friends or family, so long as they have an immersive TV and a Kinect. It mimics their movements and even their breathing in order to make you feel as though that other person is next to you. It's creepy, but an interesting idea nonetheless.
Cheetah robot can beat Usain Bolt in a race
AlphaDog isn’t the only robot DARPA’s funding this year. It also had its attention on Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah Robot, a four-legged machine that can outrun Usain Bolt. Itcan run up to 28.3 miles per hour before it tips over, while Bolt’s fastest sprint is around the 27mph mark. Now, a real cheetah can run up to 75mph, but I’m sure the guys over at DARPA see this as their next challenge to beat.
Roboy is almost a real boy
Robots are beginning to resemble humans more and more, but this year, a team of engineers began building the most lifelike yet. Roboy will not only look like a person on the outside—complete with a skin-like outer cover—but it will resemble a human body on the inside, skeleton structure and all. IThe goal behind Roboy is to help make humans-robot interaction less uncomfortable. Heck, you can even add the robot on Facebook.
The robot that never was: TacoCopter
You can’t look over the year in robots without looking at the infamous TacoCopter. The quadrotor project saw geeks rejoice at the prospect of ordering tacos online, and having the flying robot deliver them to you home. Sadly as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and this was no exception. The creator, Star Simpson, admitted it was just a concept…for now.
2013, don’t let us down.