Another 10 of the Coolest Robots

1Terminator mannequin: the robot who will try on new clothes for you

Let's face it -- buying new clothes is a hassle. You can go to the mall, and spend hours trying on new clothes under unforgiving harsh lights and being pressured by pushy sales people. Or you can buy your clothes online, but there's a distinct possibility that your purchase will need to be returned because it doesn't fit the way you had hoped. Fortunately, a forward-thinking Estonian company is hoping to revolutionize online shopping by having a shape-shifting robot try those clothes on for you. Customers who visit a participating clothing company can feed in their body measurements online and then can watch as a mannequin individually shaped to their body "tries on" different articles of clothing. or "Terminator mannequin" can morph its body into 2,000 different body types, going from pencil-thin hipster to athletic gym rat to beer-belly coach potato with the touch of a button. While consumers will see this process occur instantly online, it all has been pre-rendered by one of five robots physically trying on the various articles of clothing. Pictures are taken of the robot in all the various sizes and uploaded, giving the online viewer the impression it is taking place in the present. Currently all the robots can only model men's bodies, as women's bust sizes have proved much more difficult to calculate. The female robots are expected to come online soon.

2Panasonic Hair-Washing: the robot who washes and rinses your hair

Bad hair day? Now you can blame your robot. Panasonic has developed a hair-washing bot that lets you lie down while your locks are gently shampooed. Designed for Japan's growing elderly and bedridden population, the device consists of a reclining chair and a computerized washbasin. The machine incorporates robot hand technology, with 16 mechatronic magic fingers that rinse and wash hair. It also remembers each user's individual data, such as head shape and massage preferences. A moving arm in the machine first scans your head in 3D to determine its shape and the optimal amount of force to use while shampooing (one hopes this is foolproof technology). Next, the robot's 16 fingers gently massage your scalp while a three-motor arm moves back and forth and force sensors ensure a delicate touch.

3Robotic Lego Bartender: the robot that can pour you a drink

If there was a list of professions least likely to see humans replaced by machines, the barkeeper would logically be on that list. But students in the final year of a computational linguistics and phonetics course at the University of Saarland in Germany have created a robotic bartender to demonstrate how digital language technologies can be combined with robotics.

The robotic Barkeeper understands natural language and hence takes orders in exactly the same way as a normal bartender. It has a database of cocktail recipes, and will propose drinks to the customer at the beginning of the conversation. The user can then choose any cocktail by spoken commands, or create their own cocktail by choosing the ingredients. Then while it is making the drinks, it keeps the customers entertained by telling jokes. The Barkeeper has an extensive joke database, with additional specific jokes about each cocktail and each ingredient. When it serves the drink, it also explains to the customer exactly what the alcoholic content is.

4Shirt Folding Robot: the DIY Lego folding machine

The most complex thing I've ever built out of a set of LEGO bricks was a police station, and I did that following the directions. Real hard-core LEGO fans don't need no stinkin' instructions, and can turn their Mindstorms LEGO sets into robots that do things I won't do for myself, like fold a t-shirt. This LEGO ‘bot is interesting in that all you have to do is place your t-shirt on the flat cardboard box and hit a button. The robot then flips the flaps of the box and perfectly folds the shirt. It reminds me of one of those things the people who work in the clothing stores in the mall use to fold things, only this one is automatic.

5Husqvarna: the solar-powered robot lawnmower

As you can see by the title, this Husqvarna Solar-Powered Robot Lawnmover deserves its own acronym. Of course, HSPRL is really lame, and I suppose the Swedish-based company will have to change a few of the descriptors into synonyms that start with vowels so they could get an actual word. This HSPRL was announced at the Green Industry and Equipment Expo 2008. I'm certain that this isn't the first autonomous robot lawn mower, but I'm guessing this one won't be the last. Of course, the real selling point of the HSPRL is the fact that it is solar powered, which doesn't sound like an industry first. This limits it to daylight usage, but it uses a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery. This device weighs in at about 22-pounds, and can work a half-acre lot of grass with a wire that can be slightly buried or staked in place as a safety border. Speaking of safety, the Solar-powered lawnmower has some great safety features. For example, it will automatically shut off its blades when it is lifted, and built-in sensors to work around objects.

6NeuroArm: the first robotic neurosurgeon

In 2008, a Canadian woman became the first person to have a robot's hands inside her head. Controlled by a neurosurgeon at a computer workstation, neuroArm worked for nine hours to remove a tumour from Paige Nickason's head. NeuroArm, developed at the University of Calgary, has a sense of touch, a necessity in brain surgery, where surgeons judge how to proceed by how soft the brain is. And for precision, the two robotic arms are peerless.

7The Cubinator: the robot who solves Rubik cubes

Rubot II, The Cubinator by Mechatrons, is the world's fastest Rubik's Cube solving robot – 18.2 seconds. It appears in the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records as the world's fastest robot to solve a Rubik's cube.

8EcoBot: the robot who eats flies

A revolution in robotics. The robot, developed at the University of Bristol, is designed to power itself by eating flies. Feed the EcoBot a dead bluebottle every so often, and it will digest the insect in one of its eight microbial fuel cells, each filled with sewage slurry teeming with bacteria. A sugar compound in the fly's exoskeleton is extracted and metabolised by the bacteria to generate energy, which is turned into electricity. 'The idea is that it could go places we don't or can't go and send back information,' says Ioannis Ieropoulos of the EcoBot team. It might take temperature readings, or toxic gas measurements. For now EcoBot's achievements seem modest. In endurance tests, eight flies lasted the bot for 12 days, but it only moved for a few seconds every 14 minutes. And its developers aren't sure how it will attract its food. It's not yet WALL-E, nor is it autonomous, but it's on the way.

9Big Dog: the military pack robotic animal

Boston Dynamics makes some of the best robots in the world for traversing rugged terrain. This amazing quadruped called “Big Dog” can go up hills with rocks and mud and anything else in its path, even if someone kicks the walking robot as hard as possible. The robot is able to maintain balance and continue walking much better than a human could do. The robot is capable of carrying over 300 lbs of cargo and would seem to be useful for army missions, planetary exploration, and several other situations.

10Archer iCub: the robot who can throw an arrow

Clearly someone didn't think robots that shampoo your hair is enough. In fact, someone decided to teach a robot a skill that is still a rite of passage in some tribes: using a bow and arrow. After being instructed how to hold the bow and release the arrow, the robot learns by itself to aim and shoot arrows at the target. It learns to hit the center of the target in only 8 trials. The learning algorithm, called ARCHER (Augmented Reward Chained Regression) algorithm, was developed and optimized specifically for problems like the archery training, which have a smooth solution space and prior knowledge about the goal to be achieved.

Of course you might ask “Why do we need to fear a robot with a bow and arrow?” To which I would respond that you need to watch Predator and First Blood to see just how effective a bow-and-knife wielding brush-stalking hunterbot could be.