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Video: Transformer Robots Are Not Autonomous Yet

Video: Transformer Robots Are Not Autonomous Yet

In the Transformers movies, the robots that morph into different shapes are autonomous, sentient beings -- which, of course, is part of their scary allure. The toys on which the movies are based are static. Their parts can be rearranged to turn them into animals, vehicles, or other machines, but that's as far as the transformation goes.

Now the hobbyist firm Brave Robotics has created a robot that morphs from a sleek, sporty car into a humanoid that looks like a tough customer. (Watch a video of the transformation below.)

This is version 7.2 of what's been an ongoing project since 2002, according to the timeline on the company's website. The production version of this remote-controlled robot comes with a WiFi video camera, which streams its data to a tablet PC for viewing. The robot also can shoot darts from its arms. The kit includes a controller, batteries, a charger, and motion-editing software. The robot is delivered preprogrammed.

This spring, EnGadget reported on a similar robot from JS Robotics that uses 22 servo motors.

The latest Brave Robotics offering, which debuted at Maker Faire Tokyo 2012, changes its shape in a few seconds. Earlier versions of the 1/12 scale robot transformed slowly and clunkily. By version 4, when the robot was in car mode, it could drive on its tires and turn by steering, according to the timeline. In its humanoid form, it could walk and looked humanoid.

The designers revamped it twice after that, solving different design problems each time. By version 6, they had come up with a new transforming system, and they were using a CNC milling machine to make parts. In the next few versions, they simplified the system, and it began to resemble its more elegant current version. With version 7.1, the designers began using a 3D printer, which they designed and built themselves, to make the robot's parts.

Designs of other robots have begun with hobbyist or toy versions. We wrote in August about the Phoenix autonomous flapping robotic birds built by the Robot Locomotion Group of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Those robots started as hobbyist radio-controlled ornithopters. The group's Agile Flight Project team designed them as a platform for investigating motor control of maneuverable flapping-wing flight in an outdoor setting.

The Brave Robotics robot, of course, isn't autonomous -- yet. According to the timeline, by 2030, the company wants to build a 1/1 scale transforming robot that anyone can ride; that robot will be able to think using a "super AI system." I suspect that's not a joke.

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