10. Baseball Robots
The hottest couple in Japan right now just may be two baseball-playing robots. Unveiled by University of Tokyo researchers in July 2009, the robotic pitcher and batter can play against each other almost perfectly. The pitcher releases a strike-zone pitch 90% of the time, but at only 24 m.p.h.; the batter hits the ball almost every time. Researchers hope to bump the pitching speed up to 93 m.p.h. and throw in some curveballs and sliders soon.
9. Violinist Robot
Toyota Motor Corporation’s robotic violinist, introduced in 2007, is a 5-ft.-tall (1.5 m) humanoid with an uncanny ability to play the violin. The robot uses its arms, along with their 17 computer-controlled joints and agile fingers, to hold the instrument and press its delicate strings. The robot violinist is the latest addition to Toyota’s ensemble of musical robots, which can play the trumpet, trombone and other instruments.
8. CES 07, Honda ASIMO
At 4 ft. 3 in. (1.3 m) and weighing 115 lb. (52 kg), ASIMO could be a young child. But as far as robots go, ASIMO is all grown up. Honda Motor Co.’s ASIMO is possibly the world’s most advanced humanoid robot. ASIMO — operated by its human master either from a workstation or by remote control — was first unveiled in 2000, the latest in a collection of humanoid prototypes that Honda has been developing since the 1950s. There are over 100 ASIMO units in existence today, selling at just under $1 million apiece.
7. Sony, AIBO
AIBO, Sony’s robotic dog that can cock its head quizzically and roll over on command, was first introduced to the world in a blitz of publicity in 1999. Despite its initial popularity, AIBO got the boot in 2006: at about $2,000 a pop, the robotic dog just couldn’t compete with its flesh-and-blood counterpart and never managed to make it to the mass market. Better luck next time, Sony.
Japan — a country with almost a quarter of its population over the age of 65 — boasts the world’s longest lifespan, and robotics researchers are furiously inventing new products to cater to this demographic. Introduced in 2006, RI-MAN is the world’s first robot designed for lifting and carrying humans. (Although, as the current prototype can carry objects only up to 77 lb., or 35 kg, it’s got a ways to go.) Developed by RIKEN’s Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center, RI-MAN can also see, hear and smell — functions that could be helpful in signaling emergencies in elder clients’ homes.