Whether they’re intentionally trying to gain our trust and affection before the full-scale automation takeover, or we’re just projecting a our need to love and be loved onto innocent bots, they’re undeniably kawaii. These 10 creations serve as reminder that there’s good in the world, at least until the singularity hits and humanity’s doomed.
Check ‘em out:
Give a bot a tail, and watch it hop forever. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania created Jerboa—after the fur-and-blood desert rodent with the same name—which uses a tail as a mechanism to energize its spring legs and stabilize mid-air pitch and roll.
Depending on your internet habits, this robotic hand caressing a row of tomatoes might be the most erotic thing you see today. Does that make it rank as one of the cutest bots in 2016? There’s nothing cuter than a sensitive mechanical soul so, yes. Scientists at Cornell University developed a robotic hand with waveguides as “nerves” to sense ripeness of tomatoes. It ever-so-gently pokes at them, and picks one up with just enough force so as not to crush it in its Terminator grip.
In August, researchers based at Harvard University unveiled the first fully-soft, autonomous robot in the form of a tiny squishy octopus. It’s inspired by the real thing, with no hard components and microfluidic circuit-controlled tentacles that move in response to chemical reactions. Bonus cute points: It uncannily resembles Adorabilis, the cutest darn cephalopod ever found, or the “ghost octopus” NOAA discovered in March.
SALTO, the creation of PhD candidate Duncan Haldane at the University of California Berkeley, is a tiny robot that’s inspired by bush babies, which crouch to store energy in their legs before springing off. It can’t see where it’s going, but SALTO’s able to jump higher than a human and launch itself off of a wall for more distance. The question remains: Why would you want to teach a robot to do parkour in the first place? So it can pull a Double Kong Vault over your body on its way out the door once it gains sentience?
Try to combine the balance and stability of a smooth human gait with the stiffness of robotic components, and you’re gonna run into trouble. The hips, in particular, generate oscillatory movements that current-generation robots struggle to overcome. UCLA’s Robots and Mechanics Lab skipped the hips altogether with a bipedal bot using legs turned 90 degrees, giving it a shuffling sideways motion that’s more efficient and stable. And they put a box on its “head” with a smiley face drawn on. It’s just so happy to be here, you guys.
These robots are less cute, more Sid’s creations from Toy Story, but the pure joy they bring to their builders—many of whom are young budding roboticists—is heart-melting. Hebocon, like BattleBots competition for the totally unskilled, pits the most ridiculously robots against each other in a fight for survival. That’s the only rule: Don’t fall over, or out of the ring.
Disney Research, ya’ll are wild. There’s the smartwatch that knows what you’re touching, and the hypnotic video studying the finer points of video game water. In October, they hit us with the most enthusiastic pogo-bot, no tethers attached. The single-legged hopper runs on energy stored in its spring, and sensors keep its controlled hopping up for up to 19 jumps.
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To celebrate the birthday of Luxo Jr., the OG Cutie that appears before every Pixar movie with its lamp-legged hop (why do so many of the best inanimate objects hop?), the studio recreated the original short using their programmable camera rigs. They’ve somehow made four-and-a-half ton machines expressive. The larger rig’s name is Cyclops, and would be terrifying if it wasn’t so gosh darn endearing.
A rolling BB-8 app-controlled bot. Image: Sphero
As most everything else in this year fell to ruin, the Star Wars franchise re-established its place in our collective hearts—in part thanks to the adorableness of its automatons and androids. BB-8 is the poster-bot for cuteness, and fodder for study of how we relate to robots: The Ryerson Faculty of Communication and Design is studying a BB-8 toy for potential in easing anxiety. Sphero, the company making the bot, even calls it a “companion,” not a toy. *Insert charming beeps and boops here*
The contestants in Japan’s ROBO-ONE competition all win the award for Best Unexpected Hustle. They come in small packages—all weighing under three kilograms and bipedal—and are awarded with approximately $4,440 USD if they come out victorious from the two days of wrestling matches. It sounds intense, but it’s really just adorable.
And now for a robot that’s completely different. Cornell University grad students made a caterpillar-like bot from a “hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor,” an elastomer sheet layered between stretchy material. It’s meant to sense or set moods, says the lead researcher: “For one thing, when robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important.” It wants to gloworm right into your heart. Will you let it?
At least this one has no chance of gleefully chasing, hopping, rolling or otherwise hunting you down.
from The Most Kawaii Robots of 2016