Seven wacky robots from 2009 (photos)

Take a quick look back at some robotic tributes to the spirit of innovation, dedication, and sheer silliness. Not surprisingly, most are from Japan.

Tim Hornyak
1 of 7 Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Nurse robot Riba

What could be scarier than waking up in a hospital with a giant teddy bear robot nurse at your bedside? Perhaps a giant Hello Kitty robot nurse. But I digress.

Riba, short for Robot for Interactive Body Assistance, can lift elderly patients from wheelchairs and beds. Developers at Japan's state-run Riken research center are calling it the world's first robot to lift people in its arms.

It's probably also the world's first robot to do so with strings and flutes playing daintily in the background, as heard in an odd Reuters video on YouTube. Anyway, Riba can move patients weighing up to 134 pounds in its foam-padded paws. Its cute face is designed to make the 400-pound bear-machine less imposing. Very kawaii.

Thankfully, there are no plans for immediate commercialization, according to Riken, which added ominously that Riba will be deployed to hospitals in Japan over the next five years.

Can you bear it?

2 of 7 Taiwan Tech

Kissing robots

The porn industry is well-known for its use of tech innovations like the Webcam, and we shudder to think what it might have in store for us when we consider this display of robo-erotica that was part of a production of "Phantom of the Opera" in Taiwan.

Thomas and Janet were made by people with questionable ambitions at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology over a three-year period. The team used manual molding, noncontact 3D face scanning, and 3D face morphing to make the movements realistic.

An impressive technological feat. But this just leaves us with a bad taste in our collective mouth.

3 of 7 Pink Tentacle


The only thing crazier than building a 59-foot-tall robot is building a 59-foot-tall robot that doesn't work. Well, this 1:1 scale replica of the RX-78 Gundam from the classic Japanese sci-fi series Mobile Suit Gundam was able to move its head, emit light and steam, and generally look cool, but that's about it.

Still, that didn't deter millions of Japanese gawkers from trekking out to Shiokaze park on Tokyo Bay to view the behemoth, built by toymaker Bandai to commemorate the popular franchise's 30th anniversary.

It was disassembled at the end of August. A source at Bandai tells me it's currently in storage in northern Japan, but the Sankei newspaper has reported that it will rise again next year in the city of Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo.

This photo by the talented gentleman behind Pink Tentacle is one of many awesome photos he took. As one Tentacle reader commented, "Need to wipe the nerd drool from my mouth."

4 of 7 Video screenshot by Jonathan Skillings/CNET

Ramen-serving robots

If you happen to visit Nagoya, Japan, swing by the FA-men noodle restaurant. Their specialty is ramen noodle soups, and their expert chefs are a pair of industrial robots.

R2B1 and R2B2, made by factory automation firm Aisei, whip up a regional variety of ramen in minutes flat while bantering and occasionally horsing around with bowls and knives. Yes, it's always thrilling to dine a few feet away from a blade-wielding robot.

Stay behind the glass barrier!

5 of 7 Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Neo the toilet

Though not quite a robot, Neo is not your average toilet either. For one thing, it talks. It works as a pitchman for leading Japanese toilet maker Toto and appears in bizarre promo videos, interacting with a human friend. It also dreams about going on picnics.

Spotted in Tokyo, Neo was definitely one of the more bizarre devices we've seen this year. We were too squeamish to sit on it, and thankfully it was in a cordoned-off area.

With its repertoire of bad jokes and its oversized control panel, Neo seems to be somewhat of a gauntlet thrown down by Toto. The company, which invented the popular washlet toilets with electronic spray functions, seems to be saying, "We can build it. We have the technology."

6 of 7 Little Island

Robot doll Sokky

If you're vain enough and rich enough, you can buy a robot copy of yourself. For about two grand, a Japanese firm Little Island can make a robotic doll called Sokky based on a photo of you.

Equipped with a variety of sensors and actuators, Sokky chats by responding to questions with recordings of your voice. The 28-inch-tall, 5-pound automaton runs on Windows XP, and can read your RSS feeds and make VoIP calls via its LAN connection.

For some reason, Little Island says Sokky is great for weddings. If you get cold feet, just prop up your Sokky and scram.

7 of 7 Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Beetlemania, robot-style

It's called the Kabutom RX-03 and it looks like one of Godzilla's adversaries. Inspired by the rhinoceros beetle, this mecha-bug was built over a period of 11 years by an obsessed man in Ibaraki, Japan. Its purpose? To freak us--and insecticide makers--way out.

The beast can be remote-controlled, piloted from inside, and can also carry up to six passengers. Its body rests on wheels while its legs pull it along the ground.

Kabutom RX-03 weighs some 15 tons and measures 36 feet long--not quite shoe-squashable. Fortunately, its creator says it's here to "protect the Earth" and not destroy it.

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