Robots: We Love The Crazy Things They Do - InformationWeek

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2/4/2015
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Robots: We Love The Crazy Things They Do

In the past year, we've made robots do some pretty crazy things. These are our favorites.
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(Image: Derek Bridges via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Derek Bridges via Wikimedia Commons)

From now until Valentine's Day, InformationWeek will be doing lists of things we love, including everything from mobile devices to enterprise software and all things in between. Today, we’re looking at some of the craziest things we've taught robots to do in the last year. Robots are serious business. We find them in the military, manufacturing, healthcare, and increasingly in other enterprise settings.

The interesting thing about robots is that most are still very specialized, and they need to be that way because we're still trying to figure out how to replicate many human tasks. Not everyone necessarily wants to create a perfectly human android. But nearly all robotic tasks are designed to replicate something that is either too dangerous, too tedious, or too expensive for a human to do. Even without trying to make an artificial life form, the key to making better robots it to figure out how to teach them to do everything a human can do.

That's everything. Even crazy things. You must have seen this vomiting robot from a few years ago, vomiting Larry:

Larry is designed to help understand contamination issues, especially around Norovirus. And realistically, we're probably not going to need to make a robot throw up for any reason in the future, but waiting for humans to throw up to run a test (or inducing them to do so) doesn't make sense either.

In the past, we've also had robots learn to catch, play ping-pong (mostly), and run. These were clearly designed around helping robots move and have coordination that's more like humans. And yet the catalog of human endeavor has barely been scratched.

One wonders how long it will be until we start putting the catching robot together with the running robot and the ping-pong playing robot to make an athlete that rivals Olympians. When will we take the vomiting robot and attach it to other medical training robots to make a patient that med students can work on and get a real-life experience? We're getting close.

Miniaturizing everything and supplying the computing power is still hard. But as you can see this most recent crop of crazy robots is showing promise. The tasks are more complicated and they are doing them faster and with more practical value (well, some). The "real" androids may not be far behind.

Check out the crazy things we're doing now, and tell us your favorites in the comments section below.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 9:07:28 AM
projecting
My first question would be: There's enough projectile vomiting going around that we actually need a robot to simulate it?
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 9:11:16 AM
cooking robot
so interesting.

learns the most important part of the task

How does the robot do this? I'm sure it must be cued by language in cooking shows like "Now this is very important" or "Now, remember to...." but that's would be part of the script. What is the cook goes off script and doesn't use those key words?
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 9:17:11 AM
disney
Leave it to Disney to create a robot that's just for wealthy people entertainment, that doesn't actually help anyone or improve life at all. I suppose those bartender robots are a similar notion, I just don't like Disney because, to me, they represent unhelpful conspicuous consumption.
BillDChandler
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BillDChandler,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/5/2015 | 10:47:17 AM
Cooking in the IoT Kitchen
As a batchlor  I'm interested in the potential of the IoT in the kitchen, to make my life easier, and it seems a cooking robot would be the perfect addition to that.  It would work with the other utilities, get new ideas and cook dinner.  Order food and put it away. Plan the meals, do the dishes. Even feed the cat when I'm away.  
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 11:43:12 AM
Re: Cooking in the IoT Kitchen
In all my years teaching swim lessons, I don't think I ever taught anyone to dive as gracefully as that robot.


I can see the terrifying implications of the cooking robot - that could easily fall into the wrong hands. Though it's hard to ignore the wonderful possibility of having a robot around to save me from my own cooking...
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 12:42:02 PM
Re: Cooking in the IoT Kitchen
Only want one of these unless it is capable of running to the store for all the recipe ingrediants it needs and you don't have. Doing that for the wife is one thing, I'll be darned if I'm doing it for a robot.

Maybe it can be partnered with that drone delivery service Amazon is working on, then we might have something here....
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 8:20:33 PM
Re: projecting
@soozyg- I think the problem is that there wasn't enough vomiting on command. :)

No seriously, there are major issues in hospitals and the hospitality industry around how to cleanup after someone throws up. Specifically norovirus is a major problem on something like a cruise ship. When you vomit, some of the liquid aerosolizies and travels farther than was previously known.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 8:23:17 PM
Re: cooking robot
@Soozyg- Well, they say it is a complicated math formulat but they won't go into it because it is DARPA. But basically, what they've been able to do is make it understand what it is seeing so it doesn't need a script. It sees the person beating eggs, it gets that the whisk and the motion are the important part of beating eggs. So it icks up a whisk and beats eggs. It is amazing. 

I can't find the link, but someone recently programmed a TV camera to watch basketball and film the important parts, too. This is becoming a "thing" now where computers can see real life and focus on specific things as opposed to the whole.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 8:25:40 PM
Re: Cooking in the IoT Kitchen
Cooking robot would be a good news for me because I am lack of this skill.:-) However, I am doubting the flavor of this robot.:-)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 8:26:35 PM
Re: disney
@soozyg- Well, i don't think it is fair to complain that an entertainment company made an entertainment product. that' slike saying, "There goes NASA again, sending another rocket into space."

That said, there is real value to this. Teaching robots to do complex autonomous activites is hard. Miniaturizing it is harder. Think about a situation like manufacturing. Manufatcuring is a very comlex dance of movements that machines have to be meticiulously programmed to do. If you could teach robots to naviagte that process without being quite as choreographed, they'd be safer and better at their jobs. I'm not saying Disney is getting into manufacturing, but these sorts of technology have a way of inspiring other areas.
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