6 March 2014
“The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”
Before we go, we have to get some definitions out of the way.
A robotic purist will explain that there’s no such thing as a toy robot. The words “toy” and “robot,” used together, form an oxymoron. In other words, by definition, a toy isn’t a robot, and a robot isn’t a toy. A robot is a machine that “does work.” A toy is a machine, but not a machine that does work.
An animatronic device is a machine that moves like a living creature. Animatronic devices are used for entertainment.
But these aren’t robots. Right?
Is entertainment work?
Well, uh . . . . Let’s get back to robots.
No one can play with a robot. Right?
Well, I have to admit that children can play with anything including (and especially) the cardboard box their “toy” came in.
So, if a child plays with a robot, does it become a toy? Well, if a tree falls in the forest . . .
Let’s forget the purist definitions.
There are toy robot spiders. They are really cool.
In addition to the animatronic spider, the Robugtix line includes a hexapod (6-legged) robot for those who are not “spider purists” demanding the full 8-legs of the “octopodal” arachnid.
These animatronic devices are produced by Amoeba Robotics Ltd., a research, engineering, and design company. Founded in 2010, this Hong Kong based concern focuses on “providing innovative robotics systems for professional and educational use.” I can’t resist including another video of the “T8.” [video]
Watching these animatronic devices, you might pause to wonder what their working counterparts, the “robots,” must look like. And there you might get a surprise. Working robots, like their animatronic/entertainment counterparts, are being designed to resemble animals and even people.
As soon as engineers began developing sophisticated robotics, they ran into some problems. You may have seen those sleek glass and metal robots from those 1950’s sci-fi movies. In those days, there was an idea that robots would have to be, somehow, completely different from organic life forms. And this idea carried over into early, “real-world” technology. But there were problems. These “unlife-like” robots didn’t work so well.
The reason was obvious. Most often, we don’t need robots to do weird, strange, or superhuman tasks. We really need robots that do exactly what human beings (and a variety of common animals and even insects) do. What’s more, the tasks we want robots to do aren’t necessarily complicated. Often we need robots that do common, everyday tasks. Tasks that are simple, but time consuming and repetitive,
So, for about the past decade, most robots have been developed to imitate animals and human beings. And, not surprisingly, these robots are becoming more animatronic – life-like — in their movements and, even, appearance.
Sometimes, this is intended as in the Army Research Laboratory’s Robo-Raven. This aerial drone is designed to fly and maneuver with movements so much like a bird that it actually fools real birds. [image] [video]
The “animatronic” appearance and movement aren’t the result of idle tinkering. Instead, it’s part of this aerial drone’s camouflage. This particular “application” of camouflage is called mimesis or “masquerade.” The goal is to create an aerial drone that the observer mistakes for — just a bird flying by. But the bird is a flying drone relaying sound and video back to another, concealed observer. [video]. So, the “bird-watcher” is the one being watched.
Best of the Thursday’s