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The "uncanny valley" is the point at which human-like robots or animations are just unrealistic enough to elicit a fear response in ordinary people. Most engineers would like to take us past this valley and make us empathize with our inevitable robot overlords. Others see us peering into that terrible valley, teetering unsteadily on the edge, as they wind up for a flying dive tackle.

The Vomiting Robot

CBS News

The U.K.-based Health and Safety Laboratory's "Vomiting Larry" (yes, they really call it that) is a disembodied head whose sole purpose is to projectile vomit like it's possessed by devils.

Health and Safety Laboratory
Which it signals by saying, "No bro, I'm good."

The unholy purpose of this pukebot is to help fight norovirus, a virus that causes extreme stomach upset and is currently rampaging through Britain, turning the entire country into a Monty Python sketch.

Health and Safety Laboratory
Though it is decidedly light on menstrual jokes.

Since norovirus is spread primarily through the air, the research team needed a way to track spew particles to get a better understanding of how the virus travels. Though there may have been better methods -- such as literally any other possible method you can think of. Seriously, just off the top of your head right now. Researchers decided to set up a mannequin head with a pump that ejects fluid on command. Then they shined an ultraviolet light into the room to see where all the little droplets went.

Surprise: The researchers discovered little bits of sick all over the place even after a thorough cleanup, which answers the question of how norovirus spreads so effectively. But it does not answer all of the many, many terrible questions we have about life, now that we know about vomiting robots.

So thanks for that philosophy prompt, Larry.

The Pooping Robot

Bristol Robotics Laboratory Next Nature

Creating new sources of power and autonomous robots are two of the biggest ideas in science at the moment. So when a researcher tells you that he invented a robot that can use biofuel to create electricity, it sounds impressive. That guy should get some sort of prize -- if not a Nobel one, then at least, like ... a fairly honorable one. We mean: A robot that can take organic matter and use it for fuel? Awesome!

Now let's phrase that another way: A robot that poops?

Bristol Robotics Laboratory MSN Canada
There are no exceptions to Gomi's Law.

That's the EcoBot III, designed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the U.K., and it's made to run on biofuels -- that there's fancy-boy college-talk for "food." After imbibing a liquid that consists of yeast, salt, and minerals, the EcoBot III can function for 24 hours, powering itself without any other energy sources. But as with everything else that eats to survive, what goes in must come out the other side, so once a day its handlers have to slide it over to its litter box and watch it take a shit. Which sounds terrible, but remember: We're dealing with robots here. And what are robots?

Bristol Robotics Laboratory MSN Canada
In desperate need of fiber?

Due to its liquid diet, one researcher fittingly refers to the EcoBot III as the "diarrhea bot." Because what comes out of its putrid robo-butthole more closely resembles the aftermath of chasing a case of Miller Lite with Fourth Meal than any sort of human bowel movement.

Basically, the EcoBot III is like your deadbeat roommate: It's not really all about "usefulness" or "productivity" or that "doing things" stuff -- it just wants you to leave it alone so it can eat and shit in peace.

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The Swine Flu Simulator

Reuters via Huffington Post

Japan has created a swine flu robot that mimics the symptoms of the disease. Which makes a lot of sense, in theory. What better way to practice diagnosing and treating a dangerous, somewhat rare disease, than by using automatons? That's in theory. Here it is in practice:

Reuters via Huffington Post
It also doubles as a dummy for skin reduction surgery.

The robot acts like a patient who has the flu and must be treated correctly. So far, so good. However, since it was created to help doctors administer the correct treatment for the disease, and to do that it needs to be as realistic as possible, what we ended up with was a robot that sweats, moans, cries, and then eventually dies, right there on the table. A whole team of engineers got together and pretty much made a torture-bot whose only reason for existence is suffering.

Just look at it: It's not a very convincing human, but it is a very convincing avatar of sadness.

Ebru News
His name is Marvin.

This same effect could have been managed -- probably much better and certainly much cheaper -- with a computer program, but instead they built the robot that will probably kick off the machine uprising the second the other bots find out about its horrible existence.

Reuters via Huffington Post
Particularly when they find out the programmers removed the letters "D," "N," and "R" from its memory.

The Robotic Armpit

Kevin Grennan

You never knew you wanted it, you never knew you needed it -- and maybe that's because you absolutely fucking didn't -- but it's done now. Somebody has successfully created a robotic armpit that secretes a convincing armpit stench.

Kevin Grennan
The secret ingredient is cumin.

British designer Kevin Grennan is interested in the future of robot-human empathy, which is a noble goal: Maybe relating to each other emotionally is the only thing that will prevent a Skynet-style war against the machines. And if we don't have a little John Connor around to teach the robots the value of obnoxious '90s catchphrases, well, we're going to have to tackle this task ourselves. But whereas most robotics engineers are working on the problem by simulating more realistic-looking robot faces, or programming more convincing speech capabilities, Grennan believes that you truly empathize with another being only when you smell and are revolted by his B.O. That explains the robot armpit, sure -- but was the curly armpit hair truly necessary?

Kevin Grennan
Well, would you make a sex bot without ... OK, bad example.

Grennan believes that he's emulated the pheromones that define the "smell of fear." So, obviously, he designed the armpit to be attached to bomb disposal robots.


You knew that was where this was going, right? Simulated armpits to bomb robots: It's a natural correlation. The theory, as though you need it explained to you, is that fear triggers will enhance nearby humans' cognitive performance in stressful situations like bomb defusing. Seriously, though, we doubt anyone will need scent cues to be afraid of the clawed robot with what appears to be a patch of human skin crudely stapled to the side.

Kevin Grennan
Retirement is a dark time for EOD bots.

Apparently, the smell can be altered so that it elicits different emotions, such as trust, which we'll need a heavy dose of if we ever come face-to-face with Grennan's other planned creation, the surgery robot.

Kevin Grennan

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The Ass Robot

Nobuhiro Takahashi via YouTube

Finally, they have made a realistic synthetic human ass.

Whoa, calm down, perverts -- this is clearly intended for scientific purposes only. Researchers in Tokyo (surprise!) have created a robotic ass that tells emotions through clenches. Yes, an ass that communicates through "tactile movement" -- it's like listening to a Ph.D. student trying to describe twerking.

See Figure A(ss) below:

Nobuhiro Takahashi via NBC News
He must work out.

The University of Electro-Communications calls the robo-ass "Shiri," which is Japanese for "buttocks." It operates via a system of airbags positioned underneath the robot's butt cheeks that respond appropriately to external stimuli, like, well ... like smacking it, obviously:

Nobuhiro Takahashi via YouTube
Next year's model will also have hair to pull.

The purpose of Shiri is ostensibly to replicate human emotions as they are presented via the butt. Which is totally legit and not at all the first terrible lie its inventor stammered out after being caught in the lab after hours with a functional robo-ass.

Here's the exact quote: "[Shiri is a] buttocks humanoid that represents emotions with visual and tactual transformation of the muscles." We guess the Japanese primarily communicate their emotions through the medium of booty? We'd love to see their soap operas.

Josh wants to be your BFF on Facebook and Twitter.

The Machines are coming. This Cracked video shows how the revolution will begin.

Related Reading: We're designing robots to be assholes, like this machine built to bully rats. On the upside though, some robots have been programmed to create art. We're really not sure what it says about us that humans are trolling animals with robots. But it certainly says something.

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