Robots were once reserved for the pages of paperback pulp, but in recent decades, these bots have transformed from science fiction to everyday reality. Robotic interactions are a common part of the modern human experience as these increasingly nimble machines are designed with new skills and dexterity. During this time, robots have augmented human roles across industries from manufacturing to space exploration. From autonomous pizza delivery and bionic bartending to sports entertainment, here are some of the top tasks humans have offloaded onto our robotic assistants.
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In 2011, NASA launched what it described as the “first human-like robot to space” onboard a Discovery mission to the International Space Station “to become a permanent resident” on the orbiting spacecraft. With a pair of robotic arms and nimble hands, the humanoid robot known as Robonaut2 (R2) was designed to assist astronauts on the station.
According to a NASA fact sheet, R2 “could one day venture outside the station to help spacewalkers make repairs or additions to the station or perform scientific work.” A February 2018 dispatch from Robonaut’s official Twitter account said the bot was being prepped for a flight back to the Earth. A tweet from astronaut Joseph M. Acaba said the bot was headed to Earth for “repairs and refurb,” but said the team onboard was looking “forward to his return.”
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In April, Domino’s and the self-driving vehicle company Nuro launched an autonomous pizza delivery program. Select customers ordering from the participating location in Houston, Texas would prepay for orders online and opt to have the pizza delivered via the R2 vehicle, Domino’s said in a release, adding that dispatched text alerts will provide R2 location updates and give customers a unique pin to enter on the vehicle’s touchscreen once it arrived, prompting the doors to open, “revealing the customer’s hot Domino’s order.”
In 2014, Royal Caribbean debuted its so-called Bionic Bar featuring a pair of robotic bartenders with the ability to craft two drinks each minute and up to 1,000 drinks per day using 21 mixers and 30 spirits, according to the company. Interestingly, a Royal Caribbean infographic said the robo-mixologists’ arm “movements are patterned after the graceful Marco Pelle from New York Theatre Ballet.”
In 2019, Toyota’s AI-powered humanoid basketball player CUE made history when it was awarded the Guinness World Record for “most consecutive basketball free throws by a humanoid robot (assisted),” according to a company blog post. At the 2021 Olympics, the robot was seen showing off its talents at the free throw line and one made shot even earned a “boom shakalaka” from a broadcast commentator.
During competition, human officials have often been responsible for retrieving sports balls and other gameplay equipment as these objects carom out of play. For the Tokyo 2020 games, Toyota developed a series of “Field Support Robots” (FSR) designed to “retrieve sports equipment quickly and safely on the field of play, alleviating the burden on operational staff,” according to an Olympics post.
Per usual, CES 2021 was brimming with bots and including Samsung’s single-armed roving device known as Bot Handy. In a video, the robotic assistant was shown doing a number of chores around the house, ranging from pouring wine at the dinner table to putting away dirty dishes and generally tidying up after its human roommates.
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COVID-19 pandemic cleaning
At this year’s CES, UBTECH showcased a number of disinfecting robots designed to sanitize. host of environments including schools, hospitals, offices, gyms and subway cars. The ADIBOT-A touts a 360-degree UV-C light, LiDAR, cameras and other sensors to rove about and zap microbes on-site.
The MOFLIN from Vanguard Industries, which is described as an “AI pet robot with emotional capabilities,” according to its Kickstarter page, picked up a Best of Innovation Award in robotics at CES 2021. The MOFLIN’s honoree page says an algorithm and a series of sensors under the robot’s coat allow the bot to “learn and grow by constantly using its interactions to determine patterns and evaluate its surroundings from its sensors.”
In November 2020, a demonstration at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida showcased the capabilities of a series of semi-autonomous robot dogs that were to be used for base operations. Although the computerized robots resemble canines, the Air Force release said, the bots would not replace working military dogs on the base; instead, the robodogs would aid patrol operations, allowing the “defenders” to focus on “security actions that require a physical presence.”