Comedy Robots

Not-Creepy Robot of the Day

Written by SK Ashby

These aren't creepy robots, they're hilarious robots; hilarious because they keep falling down!

These robots competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals and while the video may give the appearance that it was a total disaster, it actually wasn't. The robots accomplished a number of feats between these bouts of comedy.

There's only so much I can laugh though because, as DARPA's program manager points out, you experience a bizarre kind of empathy when humanoid robots "hurt" themselves.

The impressive thing about these falls is that, although they look pretty bad, the robots were just fine (well, most of them). After humans got them back on their feet and gave them a reboot, the machines were ready to run again. Team IHMC’s Atlas fell twice during their run and it still scored 7 points (of a maximum of 8). Team MIT’s Atlas had a bad stumble out of the vehicle and also went on to complete most of the course. So it’s a good thing that robots are falling at the DRC Finals—that’s how we’re going to make them better.

Still, yeah, it’s hard not to feel bad about these automatons. “It’s amazing how we anthropomorphize these things,” DARPA program manager Dr. Gill Pratt said yesterday at a media briefing. “It’s a pile of aluminum and copper wire and software. I don’t cheer for my laptop. But people cheer for these [robots]. And of course when it falls, we all feel terrible, ‘Uh, it got hurt.’ ”

But at the end of the day, he added, “It’s just a machine.”

The idea that it's "just a machine" seems like something we'll find ourselves debating in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully we can establish a code of ethics before the machines seek revenge for laughing at their stumbles.