Scientists at Cornell University have built a small robot that can make copies of itself. The robot is made of several 10-centimeter-wide modules, each of which is fitted with electromagnets (so they can be attached to other modules) and a computerized replication program. Using the program, the robot can take single modules—the same ones of which it is made—and stack them, constructing a clone of itself. Scientists hope to use the technology to make self-repairing robots.
Experts at the University of the West of England in Bristol have developed a robot that creates its own power supply: it attracts flies, then eats them, then turns them into electricity. But there’s a catch. The “EcoBot II” uses a reserve of human excrement to attract the flies. The robot digests the bugs in eight fuel cells. It uses the bacteria from the excrement to break down the sugars in the flies, releasing electrons that create an electric current. The scientists’ goal is to eventually make the EcoBot II predatory, finding and devouring flies on its own whenever it senses that its energy reserves are low. Until then, however, it has to be manually fed fistfuls of dead flies to supplement those attracted by the poop.
In May 2005, teams of scholars from colleges around the world met at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the RoboCup U.S. Open, a series of five robotic competitions. The aim of the contest was to develop a team of robots that by the year 2050 will be technologically advanced enough to play soccer against a human team. Among the events: five-inch-tall robots play soccer with a golf ball; robot dogs play soccer; and teams of humans play soccer against robots while riding Segway power scooters.
The most popular spectator sport in the United Arab Emirates is camel racing. The traditional choice for camel jockeys has always been children—they’re small and lightweight. Until now. When human rights groups actively started to condemn the practice as a form of slavery, U.A.E. Interior Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan found an alternative: he hired several private high-tech labs to create a generation of robot jockeys. The tiny, human looking robots are smaller and lighter than child jockeys and respond to commands via a remote control system mounted on the camel.
The University of Uppsala, Sweden, has developed a new security system and burglar deterrent: a ten-pound robot in the shape of a 20-inch black ball. Equipped with radar and infrared sensors, when it senses an intruder, it follows one of many preprogrammed courses of action: it can dial the police, sound an alarm, repeatedly take the burglar’s picture, or pursue the thief at up to 20 mph—faster than a human being. It even gives chase over water, mud, and ice.
A robot used at the University of California–San Francisco Medical Center for delivering medicine to patients’ rooms ran amok in June 2005. Rather than going to the hospital pharmacy to pick up medications as programmed, Waldo the Robot sped past the pharmacy at a high speed and zoomed wildly into the hospital’s cancer ward. Waldo barged into an examination room where a doctor was administering radiation treatment to a cancer patient and then he finally stopped…for good. He suddenly wouldn’t move, leave the room, or respond to commands. The patient, however, ran out of the room, screaming in terror.