Robot design covers many aspects, from the physical shape of the robot to the internal software architecture. Most people use “robot design” synonymously with physical morphology (the shape of the robot)- whether it has legs, propellers, looks like a human, changes shape (polymorphic), and so on. Q.U.R., a 1943 short story, provides the most explicit and succinct illustration of why form follows function though The Secret Life of Bots is much more moving, but Big Hero Six with the soft robot Baymax is probably the most fun exploration of when a humanoid shape is good and when something else (especially soft and cuddly) is better. 

October 29, 2019

I Am Mother is the Hilary Swank-Rose Byrne movie streaming on Netflix, where a robot, named Mother (Rose Byrne), raises a girl, appropriately named Daughter, as part of a plan to repopulate the Earth after an extinction event. Or maybe not, once a survivor (Hilary Swan...

January 21, 2019

Robinc is the sequel to Q.U.R., the excellent illustration of why humanoid robots aren’t always the best shape for a job. Robinc, the nickname for the monopoly Robots Incorporated, isn’t happy with Q.U.R.’s usaform non-humanoid robots and sabotages demonstrations. The...

September 17, 2018

Recommendation: Pick up a copy of The Caves of Steel and enjoy a true classic.

In 1953, Isaac Asimov spun an odd couple story about a human and robot detective team in  an over-populated future where humans on earth lived like naked mole rats, packed into cities. The ro...

September 10, 2018

Recommendation: Explore programming languages for robots while letting your inner Crow T. Robot savor this MST3K-worthy Michael Crichton robot movie starring Tom Selleck, Kristie Alley, and KISS’ Gene Simmons

Robots: variety of non-anthropomorphic service robots, menaci...

September 3, 2018

Recommendation: Read the short story, then build a PUMA robot to dismantle the Amazon Electric Dreams version.  

Robots: ground, aerial, industrial robots, humanoids

Autofac is a 1955 short story about automated robot factories known as autofacs and has been into Ep...

August 1, 2018

It’s impossible not to love Baymax the inflatable marshmallow of a robot who saves the human hero of the story (named Hiro, pun intended by the writers) in this 2014 animated movie. And surprise, unlike the comic book version, the physical design of Baymax in the movie...

July 16, 2018

Robots: humanoids, teleoperated reconfigurable robots

Recommendation: Read this classic novel and expand your horizons about robots and science fiction writers that don’t publish in English. 

Stanislaw Lem was one of the most read science fiction authors in the world in...

June 4, 2018

What it gets right about robots: Physical robot design, the difficulties of following natural language directions

Recommendation: Gather the kids and their friends, make a LOT of popcorn, and enjoy!

The book, if not the movie, Ready Player One made the 80’s cool, so Shor...

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  • why form follows function: Q.U.R., ROBINC, The Secret Life of Bots, Big Hero Six

  • why humanoids: The Caves of Steel

  • examples of different robot shapes for different tasks: Runaway, The Tea Master and the Detective

  • similarities and differences in human and robot: Short Circuit

  • The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm


For further reading:

  • Chapter 9: Locomotion, Introduction to AI Robotics, 2nd Edition, R. Murphy,  MIT Press 2019 (available Aug)

  • Springer Handbook of Robotics, 2nd Edition (Springer 2016)

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