I’ve been beating around the bush too long. With hamsters in semi-mechanized wheels, egg-shaped machines and alarm clocks that move on their own, I’ve come close but never actually touched upon a topic close to my heart: robots. In a world full of weird, crazy and useless shit, robots and robot-type things could top any list. There’s the Terminator, the Roomba and the upcoming Wall-E, a Pixar movie about an adorable little E.T.-esque robot, comes out a month from today. So after a quarter of combing through the strangest gadgets, gizmos and whatnots I could find, here are my favorite little machine-people.
1. Robots can and do serve many important purposes. They can perform elaborate surgeries, assemble and disassemble spaceship parts in orbit, and star in cheesy sci-fi movies without sacrificing their dignity. But here’s one as-yet untapped robot function — drink service. Enter the Asahi beer robot, an R2-D2-looking creature with a refrigerator bottom that will open a beer and pour it at a perfect angle. For the under-21 crowd, Japan has installed Coke vending machine robots all over as well, though I’m not sure if they serve the Coke or just intimidate you into buying one.
2. Pets are high-maintenance. They need to be fed and kept clean, they need exercise, love and attention. This annoying quality makes them a poor choice for the average, negligent college student. Plus, many animals you may want to own are endangered or dangerous or something irritating like that. Have no fear! Far from the Tamagotchi of yesteryear, Gupi is a robot guinea pig with functions similar to those of a Furby, but without the horrifying creepiness and made-up language. He has sensors to guide his motion, a homing device and you charge his batteries by inserting a carrot into his mouth. For those of you craving a cooler robot pet than a glorified hamster, Kobie is for you. One of the most high-tech robot toys ever created, he can express emotions and recognize human faces. Plus he’s totally adorable, and less of a hassle than that time I tried to sneak out of the Brookfield Zoo with a koala under my shirt.
3. Cute as robot pets are, one of the defining requirements of a robot is that it be totally badass. This guy fits the bill. Invented to help protect law enforcement from danger while carrying out their peacekeeping duties, Epson Robots released a little machine that looks a lot like the star of Short Circuit, but comes equipped with a laser sight and a taser. Pretty cool, as long as he doesn’t get any bright ideas.
4. I’ll confess that as far as I’m concerned, robots are mostly for fun, but sometimes they do genuinely make life easier. This is one of those times. And it rules. The LawnBot works much like the Roomba, but mows your lawn instead — a much more tedious, and slightly more dangerous, task for a robot to take over. And my favorite source of all things totally absurd and awesome, Hammacher Schlemmer, just released a remote-controlled gutter cleaning robot. If you have ever had to clean a gutter, you will stand up with me and rejoice. No joke — this is brilliant.
5. Robots were originally created, as I understand it, simply to prove that we could do it. Now they are all built to meet a specific need or fill a certain purpose. The Broken Heart Robot brings us back to the old days when robot lives were simpler. His plight is described:
“On his home planet of Xerbix 319, the Broken Heart Robot was one of the rare robots built without a purpose. Saddened by this, he fled Xerbix 319 and traveled the galaxy to seek out his purpose … Along the way, the Broken Heart Robot met many interesting characters on various planets, moons and asteroids, and eventually landed on a small planet known as Earth. Though he has yet to find his purpose, he may just find a few new friends to help him with his quest!”
6. I don’t understand why a connection would be made between robots and bugs. One is an intelligent, high-tech, man-made creation that helps humans. The other is an obnoxious, tiny, pointless breed that exists to do some biological balancing stuff but mostly to make your life miserable. Inventor Garnet Hertz admits his cockroach-powered robot was meant to be a “little bit of a joke,” invented to help bridge the gap between human and animal connectedness and robotics. A far more useful bug-robot interaction, I think, is the Slugbot, which hunts, catches and kills slugs. Then it crushes their bodies into a useful fuel to keep powering itself. A gardener or sadistic bug-hater’s high-tech dream come true.
7. As fun as robots can be when they are helping or entertaining people, robots created to replace people are terrifying. Some incarnations make sense, like this dental patient robot from Japan, which will spare many innocents from being “test subjects” for training and practicing dentists. Others keep me up late at night. Like this creepy child robot, a prototype for more realistic-looking child robots to come. And I thought small children were scary. At least they have flesh tones and noses.
8. Finally, I could not conclude this list without the crème de la crème, the pioneer of robots, the one and only, Teddy Ruxpin. Teddy Ruxpin was my first experience with creepy robotic creatures, and he took me on many magical adventures of reading and imagination, until my little brother decided he needed a bath, and he turned on me. I still love you, Teddy Ruxpin, even after your eyes shorted out and you kept repeating half a word on a manic loop until Mom took out your batteries. I hope you’re staying the hell away from the TaserBot in robot heaven.