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Quick: animals or robots? As in, which of them will be the first to get tired of humanity's bullshit and rise against us?

I'm sorry, that was a trick question. Thanks to science, there's no need to choose anymore. Enterprising researchers everywhere are busy merging the two options by building artificial animals that will one day rule the lands, seas, skies, and us with an iron paw. When our grandchildren inevitably find themselves skulking in the ruins of their ravaged megacities, chances are they're going to be hunted for sport by the sentient upgrades of ...

6
Legged Squad Support System

Przemyslaw Wasilewski/iStock/Getty Images

Ha, look at these things!

DARPA

Are they ... artificial cows? Some sentient variety of those mechanical bulls rodeo bar patrons so enjoy hurting themselves with?

What you're looking at are semi-autonomous creatures known as Legged Squad Support Systems, or LS3s. A robot technician walks in front of them and gives them commands, which they seem perfectly content to obey ... for now.

DARPA
An LS3, seen here nonchalantly blocking your only way to safety.

Also known as DARPA Mules, these weird headless horse creatures are meant to help soldiers haul their gear around the battlefield, although no one will ever convince me the Army isn't secretly planning to ride these things into battle. An LS3 has a carrying capacity of 400 pounds, or two or three humans it has hunted down -- a task it will find extremely easy, thanks to its advanced voice recognition technology. Yes, LS3 knows how to locate you by sound.

If you think that LS3 looks less threatening and more kind of clumsy and harmless, it's only because you haven't seen it in action. Cut to 0:33 of this innocent demonstration video: The guy is walking alone in the forest when suddenly an LS3 enters the frame from the right, stalking him silently save for the quiet revving of its engine and the monotonous thud of its robot murder hooves.

DARPA
Ch ch ch, ah ah ah

Tell me you could walk into a cinema with that scene playing and think it isn't a horror movie. And tell me you wouldn't crap all the pants if you were taking your daily forest walk and saw that thing coming at you, crashing through the foliage and screaming your naaaaaaaaaaame.

DARPA
Look at them happily cavorting in the field, the six men they just trampled to death but a memory of a job done well.

The LS3 is a joint project between DARPA and the Google-owned Boston Dynamics, two long-standing names in robotics whose track record of insanity includes BigDog, a perennial contender for Cracked's prestigious Thing That Is Most Likely to Murder Us in Our Sleep award. Incidentally, BigDog's development team has recently taught it to hurl cinder blocks with deadly strength and accuracy. It's probably just a matter of time before the LS3 picks up the trick and starts throwing cars at us.

5
Robotic Bees

NAOKI MUTAI/a.collectionRF/amana images/Getty Images

A few years ago, scientists were worried about the phenomenon of disappearing bees. Although some viable explanations for the problem (fungicides and a particularly nasty parasite) have been found since, no one has been able to come up with a functional solution. Bee populations are still rapidly declining.

Which is why we're now building robotic bees.

Harvard University
Self-assembling robotic bees.

I realize that bees play an important part in pollination and ecosystems and shit, but personally, I've never liked the little bastards. The fact that people are now robotizing them does nothing to alter my stance. Sure, right now these guys are little more than concept models, tiny nail-clipper-looking things on wings that barely function. But we all know how science works. Once someone gets the basic concept down, others start rapidly building on that platform. In 10 years' time, we'll suddenly have 30 million completely realistic robo-bees that can Voltronize into a 10-story Beezilla and shoot electricity from their giant horns (I know nothing about bees). What's more, the people working on the robo-bee project have been blurting out quotes such as "We can now very rapidly build reliable prototypes, which allows us to be more aggressive in how we test them." After comments like that, you know it's just a matter of time until these things sport stingers and a hive mind, and possibly also tiny missiles that automatically home in on your crotch.

Harvard University
"Say goodbye to your urethra."

The reason scientists are working on these swarms of robotic bees is noble enough: They just want to reproduce the pollenating and buzzing-around functions of real bees now that they're slowly dying away. Still, I dare you to think of a man-made cloud of millions of tiny robot bees in a way that will not lead to a scenario that requires Will Smith and a flamethrower.

Francois Durand/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Points redacted if you take the obvious route.

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4
FastRunner Ostrich

NiseriN/iStock/Getty Images

The ostrich may look goofy as hell, but remember: This avian mini T. rex is one of nature's premier murder machines, easily capable of tearing through lions with a single blow. You can't outrun an ostrich, you can't outfight an ostrich, and you definitely can't outkick an ostrich. Hell, you don't even stand a chance in a knife fight -- before you've even figured out how to open the latch to your butterfly knife, the ostrich has gutted you thrice with its velociraptor claws, Jurassic Park style. With the possible exception of the golden eagle, this bad boy is the absolute last bird you want to fight against. So, of course science has decided to robotize it.

Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
"KICK-MURDER MODE: ACTIVATED."

Our friends at DARPA have commissioned a creepy ostrich machine that will be able to run circles around you at speeds that rival the best human athletes. That's just the beginning, too: The final goal of the project is a robot that can travel at paces nearing 50 mph, with its carrying power limited only by the strength of its materials. It will be able to run in fairly rough terrain, and even jump obstacles:

Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Somewhere, ED-209 is weeping tears of impotent rage.

The design doesn't seem to feature giant foot knives and miniguns at this point, but come on -- this is DARPA we're talking about. That shit will totally be there, probably painted gold and with bells attached. Once finished, the robo-ostrich will be the perfect war machine, just one sentience-creating short circuit away from either destroying mankind or befriending a lonely boy and having wacky adventures with him while running from a rogue colonel. Really, the only thing that it won't be able to do is fly.

Don't think that the skies are robot-free, though ...

3
Festo SmartBird

rakchai/iStock/Getty Images

This is not a new gimmick airplane by an increasingly desperate aerospace company. This is Festo SmartBird, a robotic seagull.

Festo

Yes, our future skies will be terrorized by a goddamn seagull. They didn't bother making our eventual Sky Overlord a falcon or even a raven, oh no. Science doesn't deem humanity worthy of a proper aerial adversary. For us, it's all seagulls, all the time.

Festo
"Fuuuuuuck yoooooooouu."

Once you get past its appearance, the SmartBird is actually a fairly cool piece of work. With a 6-foot 5-inch wingspan and extremely natural, birdlike movements that almost (but not quite -- never quite) lift it out of Uncanny Valley, it is just realistic enough that it can convince you it's probably an ordinary bird from afar. Up close, it's just intimidating enough so that when it starts pooping napalm on you, you probably won't feel too disappointed by the fact that you were killed by a stupid seagull.

Festo
You'd be surprised how menacing a large seagull machine can look when it's coming for you at shoulder height.

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2
The Bionic Penguin

Musat/iStock/Getty Images

On paper, a robotic penguin seems like a waddling embarrassment, or perhaps a second string character on a Disney World ride. In practice, it's considerably less cuddly.

Festo
Somewhere, Danny DeVito is standing in front of a control panel and cackling maniacally.

Jesus, look at that thing! It doesn't even attempt to look like an authentic animal, instead going for a slick, simplistic video game villain look. That's not a cute, cuddly penguin-bot, that's a glow-eyed murder torpedo that was born to crush the seas under its (presumably sharpened) iron wings. Things like the Bionic Penguin are not built; they come into being via chest-bursting. From a shark.

The Bionic Penguin (yes, that's what it's really called) is not just a slick swimmer with the eyes of an aquatic Terminator. It also has a highly developed sonar system that it uses to navigate, locate objects underwater, and, of course, communicate with other bionic penguins. These things can co-operate.

Staying away from the water is not going to keep you any safer. There's also a variation of the machine that can actually fly, because once you start committing crimes against nature, you might as well go the whole nine yards.

Festo
They may be little more than glorified helium balloons, but that's small consolation when they start dive-bombing you.

You'll notice how the designers went out of their way to give the flying Bionic Penguin a T-1000 vibe, because what the world really needs is flying robot ghost penguins that look like a Terminator. The Bionic Penguin is another fine product of Festo, by the way. However, they can't be held responsible for ...

1
Hyper-Realistic Robot Spiders

Thiradech/iStock/Getty Images

AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit. Is ... is this a physically accurate robot spider? Shiiiiiii-

Robugtix

-iiiiiiiiiiit!

Of course someone is building goddamn robot spiders, and with hyper-realistic movements to boot. What's more, these things are apparently relatively easy to make, as a lot of their parts are 3D printable. This means that once the first one gains sentience, it can easily acquire a 3D printing kit or 16 (horror spiders seldom have trouble shopping) and bury the world in a tsunami of its kith and kin. Hey, want to see how these things move? Neither do I, but here we go:

Robugtix
Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Maybe there's no reason to panic. This is clearly just the work of a single madman possessed by the unloving spirit of Arachnia, the eternal spider god. Yeah. It's just one deranged person who thinks it's a good idea to crank out 3D printable arachnid robots -- we can totally deal with him and his army of elaborate, elaborate monsters ...

DimensionPrinting
"'Sup."

Oh, cool. Here we see a hexapod variation on the spider robot theme, designed by a completely different guy and equipped with a different set of properties, such as awareness of its surroundings. So there are two guys building these fucking things, then. But that has to be it. Surely building robotic spider monsters can't be a trend or anything ...

Fraunhofer IPA
"Yo."

God dammit. Pack your bags, people -- it's time to look into colonizing other planets. The fact that we're now mass-designing artificial arachnid monsters is a surefire sign that this one is about five minutes away from its game over screen.


Pauli Poisuo was replaced with a robot in 1958. Follow him on Twitter.

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