16 Robots that Shaped Engineers

From anime and purely mechanical robots to humanoid shaped and controlled versions, robots have been both an inspiration and learning platform for many of us.
  • Here’s a collection of robots that influenced me to become an engineer as well as robots that I met later in life at universities, trade shows and the like.

    Astro Boy

    Astro Boy is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka in the 1950s. In the series, Astro is introduced as a robot male with human emotions created by Umataro Tenma. Tragically, Tenma created Astro in the image of his deceased son Tobio Tenma. When Astro turned out to be more robotic than human, Tenma sold him to a robotic circus out of a fit of rage.

    Astro Boy is one of the most successful manga and anime franchises in the world. The 1963 anime series became a hit on television in Japan and the United States. (Image Source:  MonsterGallery, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Mr. Machine

    Mr. Machine was a children's robot-like mechanical man originally manufactured by the Ideal Toy Company in 1960. It had no electronics at all. The body had a giant windup key at the back and a red top for a hat. When the toy was wound up it would "walk", swinging its arms and repeatedly ringing a bell mounted on its front and periodically emit a mechanical "Ah.” Mr. Machine has a clear plastic body which made all his moving parts visible. The toy could be taken apart and put back together, which was great practice for the budding engineer. (Image Source: Jim Hickcox, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • “Danger, Will Robinson!”

    Remember the 1965 TV series, “Lost in Space.” It had the “B9 Robot” – usually just called Robot – that roamed the universe with the Robinson family. Even the 1998 feature film remake had an evolved version of Robot as did the 2018 Netflix reboot of the TV series. In each retelling, the robot played a major role both hindering and assisting the Robinson family. In the latest remake, the robot walked upright on two legs, like a humanoid. In past versions of the Lost in Space show, the robot moved on motorized treads like a tank. (Image Source: Joamm Tall, CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Jimmy the Robot

    It was at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2014 that Jimmy the Roblt was revealed by Intel futurist, Brian David Johnson. He wanted to create the smartphone equivalent of a robot at least in terms of low power. While Jimmy wasn’t that smart (the smaller version used an Edison processor was a supposedly larger one version ran on an Intel Core i5 processor), he was very social and customizable. Jimmy could walk and talk – a lot. The starter kit cost $1,600 and you could 3D print different shells. (Image Source: IDF 2014)

  • Project Robots

    Nao is a humanoid robot for research based on the Raspberry Pi platform. Nao relies on a custom Java controller to listen to commands coming from MQTT. (Image Source: Stephen Chin, CC BY 2.0)

  • Mimicking Robot

    Germany’s Fraunhofer, one of Europe’s largest application-oriented research organizations, has been exploring the use of a related technology, namely, fiber optical 3D Shape Sensing. One application they have been studying is the real-time shape and position sensing of the fiber anywhere along the length of the optical fiber. Such sensors provide highly accurate measurements as the fibers twist and bend at every point along the sensor. At the Display Show (SID) a few years back, Fraunhofer showed the value of using fiber optic sensing to accurately control the movements of a robot. (Image Source: SPIE Photonics, Fraunhofer)

  • Raspberry Pi Robots

    Open hardware platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino provided an excellent way to quickly and affordable built a robot. But there are a few noticeable ones that run on other hardware.  For example, consider the Poppy Humano, by Generation Robots. This humanoid, bipedal Poppy runs the Ubuntu OS on an octa-core Odroid-XU4 small board computer. The kit includes servomotors and 3D printed parts. The hand grippers may be controlled by a separate Raspberry Pi board. It is all fully open source. (Image Source: Poppy Project / M. Lapeyre)

  • Woman in the Mirror

    While roaming the show floor during the Display Show (SID) in 2018, I came across the AGC Asahi Glass interactive virtual concierge robot called Shoko Asahina. She was inquisitive and charming, waving her hand to attract my attention as I approach the booth. She then registered my badge and invited me into the display area.

    Shoko was created from Glascene, a dual-purpose glass that can serve as normal transparent glass and as a projection screen for augmented reality. The interactive virtual concierge robot is an example of the company’s Glascene technology, in which an image projected onto a transparent glass screen becomes an interactive presentation through motion sensing. (Image Source: AGC-SID 2018, Virtual Concierge)

  • R2D2

    During the ARM Techcon 2017, NXP displayed an ARM-based R2D2 as part of its “Secure Connections for a smarter world” section. Displaying R2D2 with an Audrino board addition to move head, etc. NXP was highlighting its MCUXpresso Uses MCUXpresso software and tools for Powerhouse portfolio. (Image Source: ARM Techcon 2017, NXP)

  • Remote Controlled Robot

    It was at the Design Automation Conference (DAC) 2012 that I began to encounter trade-show robots that were controlled by an unseen human. Aldec, a company in the semiconductor chip design and verification space, were showing off their talking robot on the show floor. (Image Source: DAC 2012, Aldec)

  • Mobile robots, Boston dynamics, Aethon Tug, Clearpath Robotics, Otto, 6 Rivier Systems, Chuck, Nextshift Robotics, GrayOrange, Swisslog

    Warehouse Robot

    There are many types of robots used in warehouses. For example, the Swisslong uses customized Kuka robots to provide traditional high bay warehouse robot-based material handling solutions. Swisslog offers a range of traditional and out-of-the-box technologies for automated warehousing. The company offers modular, flexible and software-driven material handling technologies. The warehouse solutions are customized for optimal flow of goods at a low cost-per-pick. (Image Source: Swisslog)

  • Mobile robots, Boston dynamics, Aethon Tug, Clearpath Robotics, Otto, 6 Rivier Systems, Chuck, Nextshift Robotics, GrayOrange, Moxi, Dilligent Robotics

    Hospital Assistants

    The Moxi from Diligent Robotics is a hospital robot assistant that helps clinical staff with non-patient-facing tasks like gathering supplies and bringing them to patient rooms, delivering lab samples, fetching items from central supply, and removing soiled linen bags. Automation helps hospitals maintain consistent care workflows and gives staff more time for patient care. (Image source: Diligent Robotics)

  • Mobile robots, Boston dynamics, Aethon Tug, Clearpath Robotics, Otto

    Humanoid and Dogoid Robots

    Boston Dynamics offers a wide range of mobile robots. Some can walk, while others roll. The company combines the principles of dynamic control and balance with mechanical designs, electronics, and software for high-performance robots equipped with perception, navigation, and intelligence.

    The company’s humanoid robot, called Atlas, is a research platform designed to study whole-body mobility. Atlas uses IoT type sensors, advanced control system and other tech to give the robot the power and balance to demonstrate human-level agility. (Image Source: Boston Dynamics)

  • CES, robots, exoskeleton, Delta Air Lines, Sarcos Robotics, ChuangChuang

    Trade Show Floor Robots

    ChuangChuang, an intelligent service robot self-developed by Chuangze Intelligent Robot Group (a high-tech enterprise from China), showed off one of the cutest robots at CES. Entering the showroom of Chuangze Group, you could see their latest series of intelligent commercial service robots, intelligent companion robots, intelligent large-screen robots, and intelligent medical robot. (Image source: Chuangze Intelligent Robot Group)

  • CES, robots, exoskeleton, Delta Air Lines, Sarcos Robotics

    Exoskeleton Robots

    Delta Air Lines has partnering with Sarcos Robotics to create employee technology fit for a superhero – a mobile and dexterous exoskeleton designed to boost employees’ physical capabilities and bolster their safety. Delta employees have worked directly with Sarcos to determine potential operational uses for the Guardian XO. (Image source: Sarcos)

  • Haptic Touch Permits Distance Healing

    Imagine that you are surgeon running a virtual reality-based simulation of an operation before the actual event. The simulation creates a realistic environment where the surgeon can see and test out the operation. However, he or she has no way to gauge the feeling of the forces of the scalpel in contact with human tissue. This is where haptic feedback would help, i.e., the capability to mimic the sense of touch and force in a computer simulation.

    After practicing, the surgeon might move on to the actual physical surgery or one conducted remotely. It is a form of telepresence. A robot surgical system is located at the remote facility, generally consisting of one or more arms (controlled by the surgeon), a master controller (console), and a sensory system giving feedback to the user. (Image Source: Adobe Stock)


John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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