by Danny Staple

You may want to pick up a copy of January’s Wired magazine. Despite being a good read anyway (which I rarely miss), the round-up they have of the 50 best robots ever is an amusing and interesting read.

They have shamelessly mixed fantasy with reality, including the extreme cheese of the fantasy side of things. The photos are good and clear, and the brief reviews offer a few laughs. Among the robots were some old familiar favourites, like Astroboy, R2D2 and the Terminator in fantasy and Shaky, QRIO and Dante II in the reality.

There were also some robots that I was not so familiar with, for example the insane Einstein-Bot. Einstein bot is actually a real robot, where the Korea Advanced Institute of Science, and one David Hanson put together a robot and put a foam Einstein head. It was designed to have realistic facial expressions as well as being able to walk - and Wired place it as the best robot to combine the two.

Then there is the Personal Satellite Assistant, a concept robot from NASA which would work as a PDA, videophone and perform a number of other tasks on board a space vehicle. It uses fans to manoeuvre itself in antigravity, and would probably represent the robot from StarFleet X-Bomber - at least without the annoying personality.

The cool Enryu is a real utility Mecha, built in japan. The 11 foot bot is designed to seat an operator in its chest area, and is capable of lifting huge weights - suitable for lifting debris in rescue operations.

Perhaps the most eerie of all was Leonardo, built by Cynthia Breazel of MIT, and Stan Winston Studio - who crafted creatures for the likes of Aliens and other animatronic feasts. It looks like some short, furry, almost gremlin like thing, which could come across as incredibly cute, or just give people the creeps.

This run down is closely followed by an in-depth into their number one and favourite, Stanley (the winner of the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge). After going through a brief biography of Thrun, there is a great editorial on the future of autonomous cars, something which is inevitable, and may save tens of thousands of lives a year worldwide. Even the best drivers have accidents, and while robots may occasionally make errors, it is reasonable to say that they will do far less often than humans.

It is also worth noting that the article on modular and hi-tech housing was very much worth a read - I think home automation has as much a part to play in robotics as any other field.