As you were going about all your workaday humankind crap this week, you may not have noticed, between the Lakers drama and the piling parking tickets, what an awesome week it truly was. Sorry for not alerting you earlier, but uh... it's freaking Robot Week.
This, however, was a hard reality to escape in the halls USC's engineering school, where some modern-day Vincent Prices have been tinkering with a fleet of mechanical wonders who put biology to shame. Many of the robots will make a public appearance at today's big USC expo, but we've selected our top five favorites --
Including, for your sick nerdly pleasures, the same viral "Little Dog" who, in the words of the Viterbi School of Engineering spokesman himself, "looks like two guys connected at the torso." Too true.
Say hello to our future oppressors:
5. Personal Robot 2 (PR2)
This guy hopes to become your trusty R2D2 of a personal assistant (sans weed-storage space, sadly) -- once the Viterbi School figures out how to make him "more persistant and more persuasive." In other words, more inclined to pick up your trash and, well, obey your every command. With gusto!
According to the school's website, students have been "teaching the PR2 basic motor skills so it can adapt to different situations, such as the motions necessary to pour liquid into a cup."
4. HUBO Humanoid Robot
USC professor Stefan Schaal, who teaches computer science, medical science and bioengineering at Viterbi (what a slacker), says Hubo the Humanoid "will someday be everywhere with us." Either cool or creepy, depending on your affinity for staring deeply into the shiny facemask of a cold-blooded bot every morning and every night, until you die, alone, while Hubo peers blankly at your rotting corpse.
Anywho, Schaal says students will attempt to wire Hubo for everything "from cleaning up after the children and accompanying them to school... to cleaning the kitchen."
"Would'nt it be nice to have a 100 percent reliable assistant, to help with everything you need?" asks Schaal, apparent used-robot salesman. Why yes, professor, it would.
But for now, Hubo is still working on simple things like "manipulating objects and walking around robustly." Which is pretty cool too.
3 1/2. Way cooler, however not quite yet existing, Sarcos Humanoid Robot
We wish we could say Sarcos will be on exhibit tonight, but he's sadly still in the Frankenstein process in some dank, thinky laboratory somewhere (probably Japan). The good news: Schaal expects to welcome him to campus by the end of the year.
A more primitive version of USC's future pride and joy does already exist, and has been much observed taking shoves and whatnot on YouTube, but Schaal says the update will have even more censors, motor skills and active vision than before.
If we're thinking hunter-gatherer here, HUBO would be the domestic one who tidies up the home camp while Sarcos goes and hunts wildebeests. Or, for us 21st Century ninnies, he'll be able to explore rough terrain and clean up after earthquakes and such.
That is -- once scientists figure out how to make his hydraulic power source portable. Sarcos may look like Iron Man, and be lauded as "one of the most high performance humanoid robots in the world," but he's not flying out the roof anytime soon. Lame.
The Glider doesn't appear to be much cooler than a high-tech paper boat, but it actually has better water-wary motor skills than most children in the Midwest.
By "altering the position of their center of mass and changing their buoyancy" in a "sawtooth-shaped trajectory" that responds to gravity (rad), these useful little buggers are able to send back data about Southern California oceans to scientists on shore, according to USC's Robotic Embedded Systems Laboratory.
They may even help save the dying baby sea lions of the future by predicting and assessing harmful algal blooms! We're sold.
Guess who's next...
2. Little Dog
Need we remind you of the 2007 earnest military advancement turned hilarious meme that was the Big Dog? For a good time, skip to 1:25:
Fortunately for us Angelenos, Big Dog has an equally hilarious -- and way more adorable! -- little brother who'll be taking center stage at the USC robot expo today. The preview vid from USC doesn't feature icy terrain, but the "unperceived seesaw" at 1:40 almost makes up for it:
The next guy isn't quite as handsome, but not for lack of effort.
1. Bandit II
So his attire, and Gumby mouth, are unfortunate. But Bandit has a higher calling than beauty pageants: Autistic children. Can't really argue with that, can we?
"Robot therapies can be a lot more effective because a person isn't involved," says Viterbi communications manager Michael Chung. "There might be a tendency [for autistic children] to not want to do something because they'd have to deal with another person. [But the therapies] don't pull up some of their social blocks... because they're playing, basically, with a robot."
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He's a "robust" upgrade from Bandit I, but Bandit II is still pretty simple. He doesn't walk around or anything -- mostly just focuses on reading human emotions and learning through imitation. Which is still pretty amazing.
"By behaving in a particular way, [the robots] can elicit behavior in the children they work with," says Chung.
So here's to Robot Week, or what's left of it! Make sure to crash the K-12 field trip at Viterbi's robotics open house today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., located in the school's Neurosciences Building. And please, if given the chance, test Little Dog with a small shove for us. You know, in the name of science.