20 Robots That Will Creep You Out
Despite decades of technological leaps in computing, robots have yet to play much of a role in our lives outside of factory work and the occasional Roomba. Perhaps that's why most attempts to create humanoid or otherwise lifelike robots come off as creepy and weird. We're happy to stare at computer screens all day, but as soon as the machine starts to look and act like one of us, scenes from The Terminator and The Matrix spring to mind. Here are 20 creepy, real robots that are sure to give you the heebie-jeebies.
Child-Robot With Biometric Body (CB2)
Even creepier than CB2's sad eyes, expressionless mouth, and colorless skin is its purpose. By recording and processing information from the outside world, this android tries to learn as a child does. You would think the scientists at Osaka University would at least throw some pants and a shirt over this twitching little terror.
Photo: AFP/Yoshikazu Tsuno
Boston Dynamics' BigDog reminds me of those cheap animal costumes for grade-school plays, in which two people walk around with only their legs exposed. Since it's a military supply robot, BigDog's creepy buzzing could be a welcome noise to soldiers in need of equipment, but I'm hoping they'll replace that sound with the graduation march from Stripes before the robot is field-ready.
Photo: Boston Dynamics
Giles Walker's "Peepshow" exhibit is an artistic statement, a commentary on how we humans are the ones being watched by an increasing number of CCTV Peeping Toms. But any attempt at deep reflection is ruined by the horrifying sight of robotic pole dancers with cameras for heads.
Photo: Giles Walker
Multiple Kill Vehicle-L
The Multiple Kill Vehicle-L hovers in the air, shoots everyone, and then falls to the ground. I'm pretty sure I've fought a few of these things in video games through the years, but the idea of a real-life flying death bot doesn't sit well. I like how Lockheed Martin's press release refers to the MKV-L's targets as "threat objects," which I'm sure is a euphemism for the Taliban and space monsters.
Photo: Lockheed Martin
Albert Einstein Hubo
Hirose-Fukushima Robotics Lab's ACM-R5 uses universal joints, bellows, paddles, and passive wheels to slither on land or underwater. I'm not sure what kind of practical uses exist for this mechanical serpent, but it could make a great cameo in an Indiana Jones flick.
Photo: Hirose-Fukushima Robotics Lab
The creepiest thing about the Tokyo Fire Department's Robocue is the very scenario for which it's intended. In the event of a dirty-bomb attack, this body snatcher goes places where humans can't and loads up victims with a mechanical arm. But it's only a matter of time before they come to get you in your sleep.
Photo: Popular Science (popsci.com)
Robotic Voice Simulator
Engineers at Kagawa University created a robot model of human vocal organs, including the mouth, nose, and vocal cords. Along the way they also wound up creating a great viral video, thanks to the robot mouth's strange, atonal bleating. This has in turn inspired some wonderful parodies, such as the robot mouth after a liter of beer.
Photo: Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Diego-San, the Robot Baby
I feel kind of bad for Diego-San, created by the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California San Diego. It's intended to show how infants learn motor skills and gestures, and it clearly has a lot of love to give. But who could ever learn to love it back?
Photo: Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California San Diego
Momoyo Torimitsu's crawling Japanese businessman is more artistic commentary, meant to symbolize the rigid salaryman culture in the midst of an Asian economic crash. As expected, most people on the streets of Australia, where the robot was exhibited, were too freaked out by the crawling android to think about Japan's economic situation.
We all know that plants can twist around to get more sunlight, but Play Coalition's PlantBot takes the idea a step further, crawling around the room to catch optimal rays for whatever vegetation it's carrying. Sounds like a great prank to play on houseguests.
Waseda-Docomo Face Robot No. 2
Swine Flu Simulator
Back when swine flu was all the rage, engineers in Japan worked up a robot that mimicked the symptoms of H1N1. The mock victim has humanlike skin and a terrified face, and it can moan, sweat, tear, and convulse as conditions worsen. If not treated properly, the robot can even "die." Maybe that's for the best.
Watch this video of a suffering robot.
Hiroshi Ishiguro's Geminoid is yet another foray into creating robots that look like humans, but what's really unsettling about this android is that it's created in Ishiguro's image (a female version also exists). Look briefly, and you might have a hard time telling which one is the human. Pray that it doesn't become self-aware.
Photo: ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories
On appearances alone, Honda's experiment in human-robot interaction seems all right. Its astronaut-like look stays safely away from the uncanny valley--the area in which a robot's resemblance to humans becomes disturbing--but I'm instinctively wary of any robot with a directive to dance the Funky Chicken, as you can see at the 22-second mark in this video.
Robot spiders are inherently creepy, but Carnegie Mellon University's Waterstrider gets extra spook points for its ability to walk on water. Researchers say the bug's ability to reach inaccessible areas makes it useful for "many different applications." But all I can think of are a dozen of these things crawling into the bathtub.
Photo: Carnegie Mellon University
A funny story about RI-MAN: Last year a few tech outlets reported that a robot, programmed to learn how to love, went haywire--trapping a young intern in a lab in an attempt to hug her repeatedly. The story turned out to be a hoax, but the humanoid robot shown in the pictures was RI-MAN, whose actual purpose is to lift and carry medical patients. I'm not totally comforted by that idea, either.
Two robots kissing. Not much more needs to be said, but for the record, this was a project of the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, part of a robotic performance of scenes from The Phantom of the Opera. A masked human Phantom is less frightening.
It's hard to knock Secom's My Spoon when its purpose--to feed people who can't feed themselves--is so benevolent. But considering that this robot is operated by joystick, I have a hard time picturing successful operation for anyone who isn't a master of Halo.
Self-Cleaning German Toilets
YouTube has loads of clips showing toilets in Germany that clean themselves. Just flush, and a little arm comes out to cover part of the rim. After a 360-degree spin, the seat is clean enough for even the most discerning posteriors. Unfortunately, the shock of seeing this happen for the first time might induce another bowel movement.