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August 9, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 2:03pm

Top 5: Sci-Fi robots and their real-life counterparts

Do our current robotic technologies match up to their fictional lookalikes?

By Ben Sullivan

This week’s been full of robotic stories from around the world, and CBR pondered about the future of robots in space.

We’ve culmiated now in the opening of registration for NASA’s Sample Return Robot competition.

Planned for June 2014, industry and academic teams from across America will compete to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrains without human controls. Teams will be winning the NASA funded 1.5 million prize.

So we decided to celebrate our robotics week with a little list of the our top five sci-fi robots, and their real-life counterparts.




Automated vacuum cleaners and R2D2

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Featured in our news story about technology cutting chores, automated vacuum cleaners are landing in more and more households, with the latest designs being able to map out plans of homes and starting to schedule their own operation. Shuffling around like a bit of an idiot, we’re still a long way off having our own little R2D2 cooking us dinner and handing out lightsabers, but with new voice response, they could still be just as sarcastic.



Mars Rover ‘Curiosity’ and Johnny Five from Short Circuit

This week we celebrated the one year anniversary of Mars Rover Curiosity’s landing on the Red Planet.

The lonely rover used its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to ‘sing’ Happy Birthday by vibrating at different frequencies.

Curiosity has become an Internet sensation with its own personality, gaining notoriety on sites like Twitter. We fancy it to be a real-life Johnny Five, blundering around the surface of Mars not really knowing what to do with itself.

Curiosity completed its dramatic descent to land safely on Marsone year ago and has already achieved its mission aim by discovering that the planet could have supported life.

Curiosity, which is about the size of a small car, is also sending back information about its surroundings to inform future missions to Mars.

Since then, the mobile laboratory has provided more than 190 gigabits of data, returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images, fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets, collected and analyzed sample material from two rocks and driven more than one mile.



Robot Suit HAL and Iron Man

OK, technically Iron Man isn’t a robot – he’s Tony Stark. But this Gundam inspired robotic suit from Japan is as close as we’re getting at the moment.

Named HAL (not after HAL 9000), the Hybrid Assistive Limb is worn over the body which greatly assists with movement.

Robot suit HAL is powered by bioelectric signals sent from the brain rather than by detecting muscle movements. It’s currently being commercialised, and is pretty groundbreaking seeing as it’s controlled by ‘will’ rather than physical movement.

Now we just need to add a jetpack to HAL and we’re almost ready to save humanity.



‘Classified autonomous killer robots’ and Terminator

Northrop Grumman and Samsung Techwin are among companies rumoured to be testing milataristic robotic systems.

With automated robotic guards already deployed in the demiltarised zones between North and South Korea, and The US Navy made aviation history on May 14 by launching an unmanned jet – the X-47B stealth drone by Northrop Grumman – from an aircraft carrier for the first time, taking a large step toward expanded use of automated drones.

Critics have called for intervention as using robots on the battlefield will open a pandoras box, as they would have to take targeting decisions upon themselves. All sounds very Terminator to us.

Further worries include whether automated soldiers could make decisions between legal and illegal orders.


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