Popular Mechanics Picks Top 5 Robots

A Popular Mechanics article offers their pick of the “top 5 robots you can buy right now”. Oddly, none of the five are exactly what you’d expect.

One is a “Tickle Me Elmo” toy, one is an exoskeleton, two are kits (wouldn’t those be robots you could “build right now” rather than “buy right now”?), and one is a service offered by Autonomous Solutions Inc, in which they will retro-fit a conventional car with computer-controlled actuators.

Are these really the coolest, most amazing, robots that you can actually buy today? I wonder what kind of list we could come up with if we stuck with actual working robots (i.e., not kits or toys, etc)? Would you pick consumer robots like the Roomba, Aibo, or Robomower; or more expensive commercial/military robots like the packbot, UAVs and AUVs?

HAL Exoskeleton, posted 3 Jan 2007 at 18:59 UTC by Rog-a-matic »

I don’t see an order form on the web link, and the FAQ link is 404.

The real link to Cyberdyne is

Wonder if they take paypal ? 🙂


We put the “you” in “you”., posted 3 Jan 2007 at 19:37 UTC by tbenedict »

My guess is they’re primarily running products they’ve showcased in their magazine at some point. (You have to put a poll together somehow…)

I’m also guessing the “you” in there meant “you, a typical subscriber who reads this at home”. I doubt Packbots, UAV surveillance craft, etc. are available to that kind of “you” (meaning “like me”.)

My own personal take on it:

1 – Tickle Me Elmo Extreme isn’t what I’d consider a wonder of the robotic world. It’s a three sensor state machine with pre-canned responses, albeit using several actuators for each. But I loved the comparison in the article between Elmo and Chucky.

2 – If I had to pick something that would build interest in robots and maybe get some more people into designing and building, a kit would be it. Say what you will, Legos are a great prototyping tool, even for fairly complex robots.

Lego Mindstorms is a great way to get kids hooked at an early age. (I’d rather my five year get going with Legos NOW rather than have to wait until he’s proficient with a soldering iron, drill press, chop saw, lathe, mill, etc.)

3 – I can understand the fascination with the biped humanoid robots like the Kondo. I’ve seen one, don’t own one, and think it’d be fun to experiment with. No other comments.

4 – The exoskeleton is a cool application. Prosthetics is an area I can see robots making a huge difference. Not so much in the form of a house servant who can fetch a juice box (name that movie). But as a way of giving someone the ability to do things they want to do.

5 – I saw this on Mythbusters and thought it was cool. I saw the price tag quoted in the article and suddenly thought it wasn’t nearly as cool.

But do those five things represent the coolest and besets robots I could buy? I hope not.

For starters, I consider CNC tooling to be robotics. It has actuators, it has sensors, it has a program, and I did buy it. And it works. And it makes marvellous stuff.

Next, how many people watch documentaries on underwater archaeology and marvel at how they’re able to do all this work at a thousand meters depth… remotely… (Yes, underwater ROVs are a commercially available product.)

Next, say what you like about a car that has computerised actuators in it, did anyone mention the robots that actually made the car? Industrial robotics have been around for a couple of decades and keep improving.

Next… Well, there are thousands of nexts I could list. But going back to my first point, I doubt Haas, AC-CESS, Mitsubishi, or any of the other companies building the things I mentioned advertise their wares or get their work written up in Pop Mech. Which is too bad, really, because I think it’s a lot cooler than Tickle Me Elmo Extreme.

But that’s just me.


ROVs, posted 3 Jan 2007 at 21:13 UTC by Steve »

VideoRay makes some really cool ROVs that are inexpensive (as submersibles go). They start at about $6k and go up to $30k depending on the model.

Th modern walking stick, posted 4 Jan 2007 at 11:04 UTC by motters »

The robot toys are cool, but I’d like to see some robots which can actually perform useful tasks and become a structural part of the economy. Like so many others before them the more expensive robots in this list are so pricey that they’re very unlikely to see any use beyond the research lab.

Of all those on the list the exoskeleton is the most promising. I think this is eventually going to be a huge market (mainly the elderly), if only they can improve their design and engineer out most of the cost of the existing system. A useful exoskeleton costing a few hundred dollars would sell in large volumes I’m sure. It would be the modern equivalent of the traditional walking stick.

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