Weird Robots and The Joy of Innovation

Do you need a US$30,000 salad tosser? Not really. But would you buy it? Probably not.

The world of innovation can be bizarre. Flying cars were once stuff that childhood fantasies and Harry Potter books were made of. Today, they’re soon to be roaming the skies.

A driving force behind innovation is its ability to transform lives. From electric vehicles to smart homes, innovation today is the pursuit of integrating technology into every facet of daily lives.

Robots have been one of the more fascinating outcomes of humanity’s obsession with technology. They’ve come a long way from when the word first appeared in a 1921 Karel Capek play called Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Today, they’ve become a worthy corollary of human labor, such as by helping frontline workers during COVID-19, or upgrading the world’s warehouses.

Not all robots are made equal, however. Many weird robots have made an entrance into the world of innovation. Here are some that you don’t want to miss.

1. This hand-holding robot

Osampo Kanojo is a Japanese robot hand that’s meant to, well, hold hands. Its name translates in English to ‘My Girlfriend in Walk’. Clearly, its makers had a categorical idea of what they wanted the robot to do.

The robot was developed by four engineers from Gifu University, according to a CNET report. It adds that the hand is built to closely resemble and behave like a human hand.

For instance, it is covered in a gel made to resemble the texture of human skin. When squeezed, the robotic hand squeezes back. It can emit fragrances, and ‘sweats’ too. By inserting a damp cloth between the robot’s heater and its skin-like layer, the material’s pores can exude moisture to replicate the feeling of sweaty hands.

The robot also comes with an app that can play the sounds of footsteps, breathing, and the rustle made by clothes. It’s meant to help people cope with loneliness during the global pandemic.

2. This salad-tossing robot

CNET referred to this robot as “one of the world’s least useful kitchen appliances,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Mostly because it’s literally called the Useless Salad Machine.

But it has a more sophisticated cousin, Sally. Developed by Chowbotics, Sally is ‘the world’s first salad robot.’ It is WiFi-enabled, has 22 separate canisters for different ingredients, can toss salads for 40-65 bowls, and comes with a touch screen and card reader. Its specs also mention 24/7 access for your round-the-clock salad needs.

The robot’s maker Deepak Sekar sees Sally’s usefulness in commercial kitchens, helping cut down on labor costs, CNN reports. Sally is stylized as an automated salad bar or salad vending machine, but it only puts the salad together. Users must clean and chop the veg themselves. They will also have to shell out US$30,000 for the robot.

3. This robot that can play ping-pong

Japanese electronics manufacturer Omron has developed a robot that can foster harmony between man and machine. It does this by playing ping-pong.

The robot is called Forpheus, standing for ‘Future Omron Robotics technology for Exploring Possibility of Harmonized aUtomation with Sinic theoretics’. The company’s website suggests that the name also combines the words ‘For’ and ‘Orpheus,’ a figure from Greek mythology representing creativity.

Forpheus is meant to be a ping-pong coach. The robot uses cameras and machine sensors to identify its human opponent and the ball. It also tracks the human player’s face to understand emotion and tailor its approach accordingly.

As the same suggests, the robot is based on SINIC theory, a theory developed by Omron Founder Kazuma Tateisi in 1970. The word SINIC is an initialism of ‘Seed-Innovation to Need-Impetus Cyclic Evolution’.

The theory suggests that tech and society impact each other mutually and cyclically, driving social evolution. Forpheus is thus a meant to be a “symbol of a relationship between mankind and machines in the future.”

4. This robot that delivers toilet paper to your toilet

Charmin’s RollBot is meant to come to your rescue in the unfortunate circumstance of being stuck in a toilet without toilet paper.

The robot can be activated via Bluetooth in the case of an emergency. It uses infrared sensors to navigate its way to point of rescue, Business Insider reports. The only catch is that it needs to be activated from a smartphone. Taking a smartphone into a toilet is not the most hygienic idea.

Charmin takes your private business seriously. It also has a fart sensor called SmellSense, which it unveiled at CES 2020 along with the RollBot. The sensor shows a “no” or a “good to go” alert for anyone about to enter the lavatory, based on the carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide air content inside.

5. The queen of them all­: Simone Giertz

The Internet calls Simone Giertz the ‘queen of shitty robots.’ It’s because she makes bots that solve everyday problems poorly, such as this birthday cake conveyor belt.

Giertz has built a number of machines that are hilarious and curious at the same time. They also involve a lot of slapping. In one video, a robot squeezes shampoo onto her hair and proceeds to slap her head repeatedly, forming a lather. In another, a Wake-up Machine wakes her up by setting off an alarm and slapping her face repeatedly.

Giertz’s robots can brush her teeth, feed her breakfast, and in what can only be called breakthrough innovation, also argue on the Internet as well.

In her 2018 TED talk, Giertz pointed out that building useless robots helped her confront her fear of failure and performance anxiety. In the process of building her machines, Giertz discovered the “expression of joy and humility that often gets lost in engineering.”

Her creations may have many detractors, but Giertz is bringing something valuable back to innovation: the importance of excitement. As much as innovation is about creating something new, it’s also about the spark and passion of inventing. The joy of creation is at the soul of innovation.

So perhaps, like the Omron robot, they may not do anything worthwhile (or anything at all). But these robots stand as a symbol of the excitement that founders often share. It may be difficult to quantify their impact, but they have value nonetheless.

Header image by Phillip Glickman on Unsplash

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