The best and worst robots of 2021


Every year a flurry of weird and wonderful robots emerge, destined for social media stardom or mundane work.

Some of the hottest robots of 2021 aren’t exactly new. Rather, they are updated models with design tweaks, part replacements or redesigned applications. This lengthy DIY process is how the field of robotics ultimately improves.

But not all robots have received a warm welcome this year. Tesla was criticized by experts when he announced his machine concept in August because it seemed to undermine the time it takes to develop a good, useful robot. the the public was also very skeptical about a few of the other debuts because of their potential to harm. However, these failures, combined with real-world performance and reception, allow engineers to find the best ways to get these types of technologies to help humans at home, at work, in hospitals, in research. scientist, etc.

As 2021 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the coolest (and not so cool) robots that have entered the scene.

Search robots

In addition to taking on repetitive, labor-intensive, or difficult-to-perform tasks for humans, some robots help explore unfamiliar worlds and terrains, from the deep ocean to outer space. This year, several aquatic robots have been developed to be sent on an underwater mission in the vast blue sea. Orpheus of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, for his part, will venture into the darkest depths of Earth’s seas (and perhaps one day, the oceans of other planets) to collect information and samples in order to ” help researchers better understand life at the extremes.

Closer to the surface, a set of Argo floating biogeochemical floats have been shown to successfully measure the amount of oxygen produced by algae and plankton. These marine plants are the base of the ocean’s food chain, so being able to assess their evolution could paint a picture of ecological health and help inform how fisheries work. There are thousands of Argo floats drifting all over the world.

Meanwhile, an AI-powered newcomer has yet to pass tank tests before they can reach the open ocean. CARL-bot, short for Caltech Autonomous Reinforcement Learning Robot, will learn to navigate the mighty ocean on its own, relying on algorithms and experiential memory. The final version of CARL could contain a suite of scientific instruments to measure pH, salinity, temperature, etc. The same software the robot uses could also one day power bionic jellyfish, which can float in water, unrelated to depth limitations.

Animal inspired bots

Engineers don’t always need to reinvent the wheel, especially when they can just learn and emulate nature’s best designs. Many new robots this year were inspired by animals. The avian world was a popular muse. Engineers at Stanford University have unveiled a bird-footed quadrocopter that can stick the landing to rough, textured surfaces like tree branches. Its robot limbs are complete with claws, toe pads, curved feet, and bendable joints.

Another Caltech robot named LEO was modeled after the bird’s ability to switch between leaping and flying when maneuvering in challenging landscapes. Like the quadrocopter, it has articulated legs and replaces its wings with propellers. LEO uses his propellers to keep himself upright and adjusts the position and orientation of his legs so he can balance himself on a slackline.

Robot fish have also caused a sensation this year. A group from the University of Virginia have released a tuna robot that wags its tail like the real deal. Researchers believe this tail design could one day be used to power underwater vehicles of the future. The tuna robot only swam solo, but a bass robot created by engineers at NYU Tandon was placed in an experimental arena with other live fish. This model was used to test the fear responses of invasive mosquitoes captured in the wild. And while it might seem wonky to us, it scared the mosquitoes so much that they changed their aggressive behaviors, lost weight, and became less fertile.

Far from Earth, the ants inspired a team of engineers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to come up with swarms of autonomous and cooperative robots that could dig underground colonies for future human settlements on Mars. Like ants, these robots would communicate with their neighbors and divide up the tasks.

Home help robots

Today more than ever, consumers are aware that businesses, social media platforms and websites can collect and share their personal data. With these privacy concerns come a caution about letting robots operate autonomously in homes. For example, people didn’t really like Amazon’s bot assistant, Astro, who Gizmodo called a “little narc butler”. Astro would function as an Alexa persona with the added ability to memorize a house’s floor plan and the faces of family members.

When it comes to home robots, simpler machines seem to be more suitable for consumers. But they can’t be too dumb. The latest Roomba finally solved the problem of avoiding piles of doo-doo when cleaning, much to the relief of pet owners everywhere who fear an unwanted “pooptastrophe”.

Service robots

Finally, robots are helping to take on an increasing number of professional tasks. This year, a fire fighting tank robot, a flying mail delivery robot, and aerial robots have helped medics deliver medical supplies or measure vital signs from the air. In June, another flying robot proved effective at detecting and locating human screams, a bizarre ability that was originally intended for “search and rescue” missions in disasters. And in September, Singapore police tested small-scale crime surveillance robots that made some residents suspicious.

In fact, North American companies wanted more robots this year compared to 2020. Due to the pandemic labor shortage, they purchased 29,000 robots worth $ 1.48 billion, according to a report by the industry group Association for Advancing Automation. The restaurant industry was one sector that turned heavily to technology when social distancing policies were put in place. Robot servers, boba makers and French fries cooks stepped in to help in kitchens with limited staff. Delivery robots on college campuses transported groceries and take out food to customers’ doors.

During the pandemic, a certain class of social robots also came to play an important role. As part of a loneliness response campaign, senior service departments in many states have started shipping robotic pets to older residents who have had to isolate themselves from COVID on their own. These battery-powered machines can purr and bark, wag their tails, or roll over. They’re pretty straightforward for social bots, but at a relatively low price, they did what they were meant to do – provide companionship for their humans.


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