Robo Newsflash

University of Tokyo researchers last week unveiled a robot that is designed to do just one thing: never lose a game of rock, paper, scissors. Here’s a look at what else is making news in the world of robotics, courtesy of The Courier-Mail

1. Exercise: If your dog can’t be bothered getting off the couch, here’s an alternative for a running mate. RMIT University researchers have developed the “Joggobot”, which flies alongside a jogger as a social companion. Joggobot is a “quadcopter”, which could make you the envy (or the victim of ridicule) of all the other runners.

2. Music: The Georgia Tech’s Centre for Music Technology last week unveiled Shimi, a musical assistant with speakers that bobs its head and taps to the beat. Shimi uses facial recognition to point his speakers in the right direction and recommends your next song. Going on sale next year for an undisclosed price.

3. Companions: A care facility in Osaka, Japan, is using an interactive robot modelled on a three-year-old boy that has a vocabulary of 400 words. The robot is designed to respond to cuddles and pats on the head and the centre director says the robot has proven particularly useful in comforting patients with dementia.

4. Waiters: It sounds like an outtake from Blade RunnerA restaurant in Harbin, China, has a staff of 18 robots that do everything from cook dumplings to serve the food. The greet robot says “Earth Person, Hello, Welcome to the Robot Restaurant” as you walk in the door, while a singing robot entertains you. Robot waiters have featured in novelty restaurants in China and Japan for more than 10 years.

5. Soldiers: ReconRobotics announced last week it had received a $14 million order from the US Government for 1000 miniature, throwable and mobile robots to be used by American soldiers in deployment in Afghanistan. The pocket-sized robots can be thrown 36m and are to be used in video reconnaissance.

6. Health workers: Bandit-II, a robot developed at the University of Southern California, is being used to help motivate paraplegics with their rehabilitation and guide them through exercises. The National Rehabilitation Centre in Los Angeles is conducting a study on the improvement of patients working with robots compared with those working with people.

8. Soccer: When the RoboCup competition was set up in 1997, the aim was to field a team of robots capable of winning against the human soccer World Cup champions by 2050. We’re not there yet, but last month’s RoboCup 2012 in Mexico City attracted thousands of participants, including this German team of programmed Nao robots.

9. Etiquette: Researchers at Silicon Valley robot developer Willow Garage are working with Pixar artists to teach robots good manners, from moving out of a person’s way when walking down a corridor to indicating that they are processing information by a verbal sign, such as scratching their head.

10. Acting: One of the robots at a robot exhibition in Taipei held last month was the humanoid robot RoboThespian. If he can be programmed to wait tables in his down time, he’ll be just like the real thing.