Since long before Karel Capek coined the term in his 1921 play R.U.R. , robots have fascinated us. Mechanical automata have figured in Greek mythology (Talus and the mechanical servants of Hephaestus) and are described in Chinese literature from 1000 BCE. The fascination continues to this day, but with the added twist that now we are building robots of all types and for all uses. Here are some of the top robot stories and slideshows from 2014 for your entertainment and enlightenment.
10. Animal robots
Since last year's Boston Dynamics Unleashes Wildcat, the Sprinting Quadruped Robot, research into animal-styled locomotion has continued. Human walking is inherently unstable, and the hope of researchers is to find an alternative motion that is simpler and more energy efficient while still able to negotiate a variety of terrains. Some of the experiments brought to light this year Robot Baboon Walks on 2 or 4 Legs and Kangaroo Bot Hops With Extreme Efficiency.
9. 10 Robots You Don’t Want to Mess With
From Design News (a sister site) comes this roundup of police and military robots intended for combat and other hazardous duty. There is no animal mimicry here, except perhaps a predatory instinct.
8. Knightscope’s K5 Robot Stops Crime Before it Happens
Now commercially available from Knightscope, this autonomous device can patrol an area and identify potential criminal activity through a combination of sensors and the use of social media information.
7. Amazon Enlists Robotic Elves to Help Ship Your Gifts
They're not cute, nor even dressed in green, but they work hard. These robots carry racks of merchandise to the filling stations, where human packers load your order into boxes for shipment.
6. Robot tuna
They have been in the news lately, identified as part of the US Navy's efforts to create stealthy underwater surveillance systems. But they're not the only nautical robots of 2014. Here are two stories about oceangoing automata: 10 Nautical Robots Ride Out the Storm and 10 Nautical Robots Brave the High Seas. But if you still have a hankering for tuna, check out the video below.
5. iCub: It’s Robotic, It’s Cute & It’s Italian
If your concept of a robot is something more anthropomorphic, then this is the little guy for you. The iCub is an open-source design originally developed by IIT as part of the EU project RobotCub and is now being used as a common platform in numerous robotics research projects. Recent advances in its design include the use of force feedback to provide gentler grasping skills.
4. Introducing REX: The Brain for Robots
For the experimenter or do-it-yourselfer, here is a device that has been offered up to be your robot's electronic “brain.” Unfortunately, though this story garnered a lot of interest, it didn't yield the desired funding. The REX Kickstarter campaign failed to reach its funding goal. Fortunately, the developers obtained funding another way, and they are actively developing the next-generation brain. To comment on what you want to see in this new design, the developers invite you to take this survey.
3. Industrial robotics
If that interests you, here is a survey of 10 Industrial Robot Applications to pique your interest. They range from human-looking arm-and-shoulder assemblies that can pick up and manipulate small objects to massive devices that handle automobile frames.
2. DARPA Robotics Challenge: Meet the Robots
One of the most popular robot stories of the year centered on the DARPA challenge to the industry to create a robot that could be used in the search and recovery of injured people following natural disasters such as landslides and earthquakes. In addition to meeting the robots initially entered in this year's challenge by following the story link above, you can learn about the revisions needed after they aced the early requirements: DARPA Robotics Challenge Ups Ante.
And the most popular robot story of 2014 is the creepy…
1. Conexant Targets Far-Field Voice Processing for TVs, PCs, Smartphones & Tablets
For many, robots of any kind invoke a vague fear that man's ingenuity will somehow turn against him. That sentiment is eloquently captured in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein . With these insect-inspired robots, our negative reactions are more instinctive, if not downright arachnophobic. But as a means of locomotion over rugged terrain, the spider form can be highly effective. What's creepy when it's small can be kind of cool when it's big enough to sit on and use to move yourself around. So, to wrap things up, here are 6 Giant Spider Bots You Can Ride.
Hope you enjoyed this robotics tour of 2014. What kinds of robots do you want to hear about in 2015?
This article originally appeared on EBN sister site EE Times.
— Rich Quinnell, Editor, Industrial Control DesignLine, EE Times