Complex as they are, most robots solve dilemmas in a basic way: they fight each other. Then Michael Bay films it, charges $10 a ticket, and everyone enjoys the marvelous robots-kicking-the-crap-out-of-each-other show.
But there are plenty of robots that have no appetite for destruction. What about these robots, ones that have to rely on personality, artifical wits, social skills, and dance moves in order to survive?
Even if they banded together, these robots couldn't fight their way out of a Buddhist monastery. That's why you have to settle these one-on-one robot battles with your online votes. It's the only way to figure out which one's the best.
In NCAA tournament style, each robot in the bracket below has been given a seed number. The winner of each battle will advance to the next round, where it'll take on the winner of another battle.
Get your picks in! Each first-round bracket will be open to your votes for one week, from today until Sunday, September 2. This week features battles between prototype robots and consumer robots. Next Monday, September 3, we'll post the second half of the bracket: robots from the movies and TV.
Note: This tournament field is not meant to be all-inclusive. Some great non-violent robots, such as Roomba, Scooba, and R2-D2 (he has a built-in taser) had to be left out of the mix by the selection committee. If you're peeved at the omission of a particular bot, let us know in the TalkBack section.
Fittingly pronounced "awesome-o," Honda's amazing humanoid bipedal robot is this year's tourney favorite, and with good reason. It's already been inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame. It climbs stairs. It looks like an astronaut. And most unfortunately for its first-round opponent, it has some pretty sweet dance moves, as this video can attest.
8. Partner Ballroom Dance Robot (PBDR)
Not to be confused with PBR, which is the fourth-seeded Beer-Launching Fridge's secret weapon, the PBDR is a hot-pink mechanical lady with mouse ears, an ample bosom, and ballroom-dancing skills. Tough first-round draw for the PBDR. It's probably the hottest robot in the competition, but looks only get you so far when you're battling Asimo. Plus, it's arguably the sixth-best dancer in the competition, behind Asimo, Keepon, Sony's QRIO, Robosapien, and Woody Allen.
The demonstration-winning robot from this year's Robo-One 11 event in Japan is built for entertainment. Known to his friends as "Li'l Clompy," OmniZero.4 climbs ladders, skips rope, breaks the hell out of eggs, and politely bows. Sure, he can be physically intimidating if you're an egg or one foot tall, but everyone else can just kick him into a swimming pool if he gets confrontational.
Motoman is big, handy, plays the drums, and was built to do mundane tasks like sorting clothing and reading bar codes. Sure, Motoman is huge and can carry big sticks, but its limp-wristed drum-playing style doesn't instill much fear in either humans or its fellow robots. On the other hand, it does sort mail, so maybe all that postal work will fuel Motoman's robotic aggression.
4. Beer-Launching Fridge
Another robot that could potentially do some damage if you're not paying attention, the Beer-Launching Fridge holds up to 10 cans of delicious beer and flings them to you so you don't even have to get up. Unfortunately, at this point, you'll have to know designer John W. Cornwell personally, because he has the only one. But he may build more. One can hope, or at least buddy up to him on Facebook.
5. The Rock-Afire Explosion
The perfect compliment to any of the dancing bots in this competition, this one-time Chuck E. Cheese/Showbiz Pizza animatronic band has been reprogrammed to play the hits of today. We're talking songs like Fergie's "London Bridge" and Bubba Sparxxx's "Ms. New Booty." The band's repertoire is available on video here, courtesy of its programmer, christhrash. Alas, it's hard to hear the songs over all the moving robot parts...hence the surprisingly low 5 seed.
The robotic star of two Spoon videos (one unofficial one, and one official one) has the most soul of any Nerf robot we've ever seen. In addition to bass (which it picks up through its nose mic), the secret to Hideki Kozima and Marek Michalowski's head-bobbing robot is in its base. Base! How low can you go?
For all you non-committals out there, this robot is your worst nightmare. For just $215,000, this humanoid will marry the crap out of you. No, it won't actually marry you. The honeymoon night would be horrendous. What it will do, however, is preside over your wedding and pronounce you and your (human) partner man and wife. Then it will make out with the PBDR robot at the reception.
When most people consider the concept of a robotic dinosaur, thoughts of mechanical T-Rexes and velociraptors duking it out on a rickety bridge over a flaming pool of tar come to mind. Ugobe's Pleo is about as far away from that image as possible. He's cute, cuddly, "learns" things as time passes, develops moods and personality traits, makes grunting noises, and is slated to be in stores in October for around $250. However, the robot version of Carl Everett doesn't think Pleo exists.
8. Hello Kitty Robot
Per Crave regulations, we need a Hello Kitty or a pirate in the mix, so here's this. More than just a $6,300, voice/face recognizing pink cat robot, the chatting Hello Kitty Robot is actually described as "a perfect robot for whoever does not have a lot time to stay with child." Which raises the question: is it better to be a lonely toddler, or one that's raised and nurtured by a Hello Kitty robot?
3. WowWee Alive Chimpanzee
I'd argue that there's no better use for robotics than a lifelike chimp head that hoots and hollers and follows you around with its eyes. WowWee's Alive Chimpanzee does everything a real chimp head does without that pesky chimp smell. It also benefits from some tough in-conference competition; battling it out with WowWee's Alive Elvis head and the fourth-seeded Robosapien on a regular basis means this chimp is used to bringing its A game. This is the dark-horse pick to win it all.
6. Nintendo R.O.B.
Any votes for R.O.B. will come straight from nostalgia, because Nintendo's game-playing robot sure didn't have many gaming skills. With only two compatible NES games (the forgettable "Gyromite" and "Stack-Up") and molasses-slow movements, R.O.B. was rarely part of any old-school gaming session beyond his first foray out of the box. These days, R.O.B. has hung up his Gyro Blocks and now has his own MySpace page.
Another selection from the ultracompetitive WowWee Conference, Robosapien has a bunch of tricks. Namely, belching, farting, caveman noises, dancing, and more farting. That's a nice little repertoire for $50, and Robosapien's hacker-friendly innards have paved the way for some sweet mods. This is another dark horse with an enthusiastic fan base that may propel it to the late rounds. It is also good at farting.
Necoro instills fear in any opponent. It's not because this lap-cat robot is particularly intimidating; it's because it's creepy as hell. Its jerky head motions and facial tics carefully mimic those of a meth-addicted Mr. Mittens, and it'd be hard to sleep knowing one of these was in your house. Still, in terms of sheer entertainment value, the awkward robo-cat is sure to pick up a ton of vote from all the YouTube-watching Necorophiles out there.
2. Sony QRIO
Hey, where's Aibo? Sorry. Sony's robo-dog was pummeled in the Sony conference finals by this lesser-known humanoid robot. Face and voice recognition, communication skills, and memory were some of QRIO's noticeable traits, but its smooth, fluid dancing moves (showcased in this Beck video) were QRIO's main drawing point. Development on the robot was halted before it hit store shelves, but you can't blame that on QRIO.
Who would have thought that "The Smartest Toy Robot in the World" would be fueled by 8-track tapes? Mego's infotainment robot was released in 1978, and Tiger revamped the robot--adding a cassette deck instead of an 8-track player--in 1992. 2-XL asked trivia questions, told bad jokes, and is responsible for my life-long fear of electrocution, due to the fact that I got shocked when I tried to plug him in at my cousin's house.
Note: Check back on Monday, September 3, for the results of these first-round battles as well as eight new first-round matchups (TV and movie robots)!