Future Tense

The Week’s Best Robot Videos: Kissy Lips and Space Invaders

Every Friday, Future Tense rounds up the best robot videos of the week. Seen a great robot video? Tweet it to @FutureTenseNow, or email us.

In this week’s videos, robots try performance art, moon exploration, and playing Cupid.

The Space Invader Bots

We’ve seen some great things from the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab before, but this is a true work of art. The “nano quadrotors” do some cool tricks on their own, including every ‘90s kid’s favorite: the barrel roll. It’s when the drones come together, though, that they really show off their skills. They fly in formation, whether in groups of two or 20, and the figure eight is just incredible. If you’re concerned with how much they resemble Space Invaders, rest assured. The researchers at GRASP Lab were kind enough to post a video of quadrotor fails, all surprisingly fun clips that remind us the technology is still in development.

Via iO9.

The Marching Ant Bots 

Another work of robotic art, lumiBots were created to represent the concept of emergence—the idea that simple interactions give rise to complex systems. The bots move in random patterns, leaving behind trails of light as they wander atop phosphorescent paper. Their only programmed direction is to change course when they bump into something and to follow trails of light, similar to the way ants follow pheromone paths. They prefer brighter and broader paths, which indicate being newer and more heavily traveled. In a few instances we see the lumiBots play a game of Follow the Leader; other times they get caught up in their own circular paths. As the artist, Mey Lean Kronemann, says on her blog, it’s also important that the lines fade away over time. “It guarantees that there will never be a data overflow.” 

Via the New Scientist.

The Tele-Kiss Bot 

In the quest to have robots do just about everything, there are some devices we can only classify as strange. Kissenger, without a doubt, is one of them. This “kiss messenger” bot was developed by Hooman Samani, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, as an application of “lovotics,” or the study of love and robotics. The idea is for a device to fill in for the physical presence of lips when your significant other is far away. Presumably, you plug the farm-animal-shaped bot into the computer via USB, fire up Skype, and let the kissing commence. With a name like Kissenger, how could it be anything but romantic?

Via KurzwilAI.

The Moon Bounce Bot 

The first two letters in Athlete’s name stand for “all terrain,” but in true NASA fashion, that doesn’t mean this rover is designed merely to handle rocks and slopes. It’s meant to scramble over rocks and slopes on asteroids. The rover can roll, step, climb, and possibly jump, depending on the gravity where it is operating. The version in this video is half the size of the one NASA wants to send to the moon, according to Gizmodo, and the full version would carry a payload on its back that could store tools or hold humans for a short period of time. The testing center here on Earth can replicate low-gravity conditions, and the simulator can be controlled by Microsoft’s Kinect. Click over to Gizmodo to watch Athlete in action and check out a slide show of scenes from the testing center.