Tech Digest's Robot World Cup: Round 1 (first half)

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Robots rule. Well, they don’t yet, thankfully, because us humans have cleverly neglected to teach them about battle tactics, gun-handling or human-frying laser technology. But what I mean to say is: they’re pretty cool. But which is the coolest?

Welcome to the Tech Digest Robot World Cup, which is nothing to do with robots trying to play football, and everything to do with a knockout battle between 64 of the coolest robots on the planet.

They’re taken from all disciplines, from home robots to militarybots, and everything in between. The rules: no celebrity bots from films or TV (sorry Metal Mickey), and a randomly drawn knockout competition in which Tech Digest’s decision is always final.

I’ve split the first round into two halves, with the first 32 bots doing battle today, followed by the next tomorrow. Early next week, we’ll have a winner! Read on for the first skirmishes.

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iRobot Aquabot v Miuro iPod speaker
I thought the point of pool cleaners was so the lady of the house could have a torrid affair with them while her husband’s away. iRobot’s Aquabot puts a stop to all that (at least, I hope it does), using jets to keep things spiffing. Meanwhile, the Miuro is a robo iPod speaker that trundles round the house after you, pumping out tunes. Miuro wins, on the grounds that more people have iPods than swimming pools.
More info: iRobot AquabotMiuro iPod speaker

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Cockroach-run Robot v Mike the Emotional Robot
It’s humanity’s worst nightmare: cockroaches teaming up with robots to rule in a post-nuclear wasteland. Garnet Hertz’s bot is controlled by a (presumably brainy) cockroach, and is consideably scarier than Sao Paulo bot Mike, who changes colour to indicate if he’s happy, sad or angry. Sorry Mike, but the cockroach-bot wins by an insecty landslide.
More info: Cockroach-botMike the Emotional Robot

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Wine’n’Cheese Bot v iRobot PackBot
We’re so fussy about our food and drink nowadays, it’s no surprise to find someone’s invented a robot that can taste wine and cheese for us, as well as recommend others we might like (hopefully there’s a ‘under £4.99 in Sainsburys please’ option). PackBot might not recognise a fruity bottle of ’83 Blue Nun, but it’s more concerned with serious activities like locating and defusing bluddy great landmines. It’s tempting to take the boozy road, but no, PackBot wins.
More info: Wine’n’Cheese Bot – iRobot Packbot

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CB2 Child Robot v Robo 3 Rideable Robot
CB2 is frankly a bit scary: he’s a child-sized robot developed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and has the physical ability of a 1-2 year-old toddler, as well as artificial vocal cords to demand rusks. Meanwhile, Robo 3’s bot is the world’s first rideable robot, and looks like something out of Star Wars. He might give you nightmares, but CB2 wins. Four legs good, two legs (and 200 tactile sensors) better.
More info: CB2 Child RobotRobo 3 Rideable Robot

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Walking Partner Robot v Echo Roboteddy
Nomura’s robotic walker is designed to help people with walking problems get around. It senses stairs, zebra crossings and comes in pink or blue. However, Echo Robot is a cutesy teddy bear that uses Bluetooth to match you up with random strangers in the street. It’s love that makes the world go round (yes, even love brokered by a robotic teddy bear), so Echo wins.
More info: Walking PartnerEcho Roboteddy

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Figla Robot v R100 Personal Robot
Figla is one of the more public-spirited robots in this competition, seeing as how he wanders the streets picking up trash (presumably so he can take it home and make laser guns for the coming robo-revolution). R100, on the other hand, is designed to keeep you company at home, reading your email and even singing to keep your spirits up. But really, what good is that if the streets are full of rubbish? Figla wins.
More info: Figla RobotR100 Personal Robot

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Roboquad v Sax-playing Jazzbot
Roboquad is the latest creation from Wowwee, and is a four-legged spiderbot (okay, half-spiderbot) whose aggression, awareness and activity levels can be tweaked to make him as nasty or nice as you want him to be. By contrast, this Japanese robot is all about the mellow, seeing as he can play a robo-rendition of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’. If he could do the sax break from the Zutons’ ‘Valerie’ he might’ve won, but Roboquad wins.
More info: RoboquadSax-playing Jazzbot

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Guitarbot v Elvisbot
Forget jazz-playing saxy bots though: this is the REAL clash of the musicbots. Guitarbot is the work of LEMUR, the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. It plays a mean slide guitar. But when it comes to musical bots, you can’t beat WowWee’s ElvisBot, which was on show at this year’s CES in a pre-production model. ElvisBot wins, because it’s more likely to get you (sorry) all shook up.
More info: GuitarbotElvisBot

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Chaos Robot v Asahi Robocco BeerBot
Another clash of a worthy military-bot with something designed for more boozy pleasures. The Chaos Robot is designed to move silently over unstable ground and rescue soldiers, recon the enemy, or just look frightening. However, even army men would agree that Asahi’s new beerbot is rather marvellous: it stores up to six cans of the cool stuff, and automatically pours them for you. BeerBot wins by a frothy head.
More info: Chaos Robot – Asahi Robocco BeerBot

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Akazawa PLEN v AIST Robotic Hand
A nine-inch robot that roller skates? Even in the 1980s that didn’t seem like a good idea. Nevertheless, PLEN does have his charms, being able to bust a few skatey stunts. Meanwhile, AIST’s robo-hand has been designed to provide as much force as a human hand, say, when throttling someone. Not that robots are just about throttling puny humans, of course. But PLEN wins, if only because he’d be a bigger hit down the rollerdisco.
More info: Akazawa PLENAIST Robotic Hand

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Honda Asimo v Robolobster
What more can I say about Asimo that hasn’t been said already? Honda’s humanoid robot took this year’s CES by storm, showing off his ability to run in circles, kick footballs and walk upstairs without falling over. Next to those skills, a robolobster that scuttles along the seafloor finding toxic waste is… well, a bit off the boil. Asimo wins.
More info: Honda AsimoRobolobster

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R2D2 Mobile Entertainment System v Cute Ball Robot
Another mismatch, sadly. The R2D2 Mobile Entertainment System was another huge hit at this year’s CES show, thanks to its ability to trundle around burbling like the Star Wars character it’s based on, while also projecting DVDs onto the wall. Oh, and its remote control is shaped like the Millennium Falcon. Meanwhile, the Cute Ball Robot is, well, a cute robot. Shaped like a ball. A rollover, as R2D2 wins.
More info: R2D2 Mobile Entertainment SystemCute Ball Robot

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Robosapien RS2 Media v Rong Cheng Beautybot
You can’t argue with Robosapien (unless you’re sitting in one of the enormous militarybots featured above, of course. Then you can be quite lairy with him). WowWee’s bot has taken robotics into the mainstream gadget market in a way that Sony’s Aibo never quite managed. His RS2 Media incarnation certainly more likely to be found in the average household than Chinese beautybot Rong Cheng, although she can dance, greet people, and respond to around a thousand words in the Sichuan dialect. Nevertheless, Robosapien wins.
More info: Robosapien RS2 Media – Rong Cheng Beautybot

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Aldebaran Robotics AL-05 v Net Tansor
French firm Aldebaran Robotics’ AL-05 was shrouded in secrecy for much of its development, thanks to cheeky videos released on the firm’s website showing the bot waving at viewers. He’s still on the shy side, but looks like he could give Asimo a run for his money. Meanwhile, Net Tansor is a robotic webcam that you can have patrolling your home to spot burglars (or just freak out the cat). No contest: the mysterious Al-05 wins.
More info: Aldebaran Robotics AL-05Net Tansor

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Japanese Walking Attack Robot v Ubiko Smoke Detector
This is the first round, so you’d expect a few walkovers. Here’s one of the biggest mismatches. On one side, you’ve got an enormous Japanese ED-209 lookalike that clumps around the streets scaring the bejaysus out of all and sundry. And on the other you’ve got a roving smoke detector robot that grasses illicit fag-smokers up to the authorities. Sorry Ubiko, but the Walking Attack robot wins by several giant paces.
More info: Walking Attack RobotUbiko Smoke Detector

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Anybots v Samsung Mahru 2
Battle of the humanoids here. Anybots claims to be the world’s first ‘dynamically balancing’ robot, complete with compressed air driven joints allowing him to move more, well, dynamically. Facing him is Samsung’s Mahru 2. Whaddya mean you didn’t know Samsung made robots too? It can recognise people using its built-in camera, and greet them in Korean. Followed by a variety of annoying bing-bong noises, if Samsung’s mobile phones are anything to go by. It’s tight, but Anybots wins.
More info: AnybotsSamsung Mahru 2

So there you have it. 32 robots have duked it out, with 16 taking their places in the second round of Tech Digest’s Robot World Cup. Stand by tomorrow for the second half of the first round, to decide which 16 bots will join them.

Stuart Dredge