This is, to me, serious evidence that the robot age is right around the corner. For a long time now, it’s been easy enough to solve the Rubik’s Cube problem on a computer. But solving a real cube using a computer, that’s a different matter. First you have to take pictures of all the sides. Then you have to physically manipulate the cube according to your algorithm. The interface to the real world is always a pain.
But here is a robotic Rubik’s Cube solver built out of Lego Mindstorms components. The guy who built this is a hardcore hobbyist, but still, this is relatively cheap stuff, as robots go. Now watch…
When I was in grad school, I spent a lot of time in an aerospace robotics lab. People were doing research on things like robotic astronauts that juggle satellites and arm wrestle in space. Actually, they were pretty primitive things back then, and it was all we could do to keep them from damaging themselves and anything or anyone nearby. The motors were powerful, and if the software failed for some reason, you could very quickly have a big heavy robot arm whipping around like the bottom of a blender. That’s why there was a tape outline of just how far each robot arm are could reach. And that’s why there was always a prominent big red button that said STOP next to every robot. And that’s why I find pictures like this terrifying.
That’s German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the right there along with Arnold and the CEO of Intel. One bad gain in the controller for that arm and WHACK! you’d have a news-making photo op there. I hope the robot was unplugged. But then again, robots have come a long way, so maybe my instincts are old-fashioned by now. The photo above was culled from this Boston Globe Big Picture photo essay on robots. Lots of fun stuff and good variety too. There’s a baby seal robot for soothing hospital patients that has a brilliant touch: you recharge it by putting a plug shaped like a pacifier into its mouth. Predictably, there’s a Japanese robotic Tyrannosaurus, but if you ask me, this is a much cheaper (and safer) way to invite a T. rex over to your museum.