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The other day a company released footage of a robot exoskeleton that was designed to give soldiers increased strength and stamina on the battlefield. The problem is that no matter how strong we make our soldiers, they will always be susceptible to fatigue, bodily harm, and things like chemical attacks. That's why defense contractors and private companies are working on remote controlled and autonomous robots to help a variety of people—from soldiers in war to local police forces to the elderly—sometimes with disastrously creepy results (including a serious plunge into the uncanny valley). Here's a sampling of some of the stranger robots out there, and what their potential uses may be.
Key features: Walks upright like a human; can maintain balance over uneven terrain and when shoved
Applications: Testing protective military gear, such as hazmat suits, under realistic conditions without endangering actual people
Created by: Boston Dynamics
Name: Precision Urban Hopper
Key features: Can jump walls and other obstacles up to 25 feet high thanks to a piston leg; remote controlled; GPS guided
Applications: Military and law enforcement
Deployment: Sometime this year
Created by: DARPA
Name: Big Dog
Key features: Ability to easily and quickly traverse varied terrain, including ice, snows, and hills—basically anywhere a human or animal could go; can carry a heavy load
Applications: Military, as a tactical support robot for soldiers
Created by: Boston Dynamics
Name: S5 Snake Robot Prototype
Key features: Achieves locomotion without wheels or legs; really scary
Applications: Search and rescue, hobby
Created by: Gavin Miller
Name: Robot Swarm
Key features: Can self-assemble in different shapes for different applications; in the future, will be able to self-program its own software
Applications: Various, especially search and rescue and anything where adaptability is useful (and where humans would be in danger)
Key features: Can climb vertical surfaces, from walls to trees
Applications: Military, law enforcement
Created by: University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, Stanford, and Lewis and Clark University (funded by DARPA)
Name: Telenoid R1
Key features: Designed as a communication tool, to better transmit the "presence" of a person; bald, legless
Applications: Civilian, especially in care for the elderly
Created by: Hiroshi Ishiguro