As tiny ghosts and goblins prepare to invade neighborhoods in search of sugary sweets, we’ve decided to give you a few tricks and treats of our own. The editors of Robotics Business Review have compiled a list of Halloween-themed robot items that should scare, inform, educate, or even provide a few delightful moments in your otherwise dreary existence.
Oops, sorry, that was the goth editor that we bring out of the basement this time of year.
We’re now back in charge, with a quick reminder: While we may poke some fun here, we are generally optimistic about robots, robotics companies, startups, and even the machines that creep us out.
Halloween 2018 robot graveyard
Regular readers of RBR know that this year has not been kind to some robotics and drone companies, with several high-profile firms shutting their doors.
Rethink Robotics’ Baxter and Sawyer
Founded in 2008, Rethink Robotics helped lead the revolution of collaborative robots that can work alongside humans more safely than their larger, industrial robot cousins. After raising almost $150 million in funding for a $291 million valuation, the Boston-based cobot maker quickly got competition from companies such as Universal Robots, as well as cobots from ABB, FANUC, KUKA, and others.
The company shut its doors earlier this month, but Baxter and Sawyer users can still find support for their not-yet-dead (or is that undead?) cobots.
But as they say, nothing teaches like failure, so for robotics companies still kicking, it’s a good opportunity to learn these lessons from Rethink’s fall.
Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri
Launched in 2015, Mayfield Robotics was developing Kuri, a consumer home robot with personality and features that included voice commands, answering back with light shows, and animated facial expressions.
Born out of the Bosch Startup Platform, the company attempted to look for ways to achieve scale and advance the technology. However, in July 2018, the company announced it would suspend operations, as “there was not a business fit within Bosch to support and scale our business.”
In August, Mayfield said it would “cease all operations by October 31st, 2018,” and Halloween is a good a date as any to end a company and a robot.
Founded in 2011, Airware was one of the early leaders in the drone analytics space. It planned to provide a cloud software system that would help construction companies, mining operations, and insurance firms to analyze aerial data. Commercial drones are an alternative to expensive helicopters or putting humans in harm’s way.
Last month, the company told employees that it would cease operations immediately. It informed the world via its blog that it would “look forward to seeing how they will take their learnings from Airware to fuel continued innovations in the world around us.”
As much of the drone industry has pivoted from the consumer market to commercial uses such as infrastructure inspection, there were bound to be casualties (see also below). Lily Robotics filed for bankruptcy last year, and in December, the assets of drone company Prioria Robotics were seized in a contract dispute with Condor Aerial.
Intelligent Digital Avatars Inc., a.k.a. iDAvatars, said in January that it would cease operations. The Minnesota-based company was working on the “Sophie” and “Holly” virtual assistants for the healthcare industry, but it lost Blue Cross Blue Shield as a client.
Not dead yet – or ‘mostly dead’?
While not technically dead in the sense of the company being gone, there are still several that faced uncertain futures, including:
- Jibo, which in June laid off most of its staff. The Jibo website is still up and running, although the company’s blog has gone silent or missing, disappointing crowdfunding supporters, who might have seen warning signs in a scathing Wall Street Journal review.
- TickTock AI founder Ryan Hickman wrote a series of articles on Medium outlining the company’s exit from the home robotics space, pivoting to the commercial side with its AR-powered robots. TickTock’s website is now a single page with an email address.
- CybAero, one of Sweden’s largest military drone makers, filed for bankruptcy in June following a failed attempt to seal a deal with China for its unmanned aerial systems.
- Faraday Future recently downsized its staff and enacted salary cuts to stay alive, as reported by The Verge. The electric car startup has faced problems while it fights with its main investor. Late last week, however, the company announced it was successful on its application for emergency relief filed with the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, which would allow the company to seek funding through other channels.
- Camera maker GoPro said in January that it’s exiting the drone business after problems with its Karma consumer drone.
- 3D printing company New Matter shut down in February, but Robo 3D is continuing to support its MOD-t printers.
Moving on from the graveyard, we now present the “scary” portion of Halloween – creepy robots. We see lots of robots, robotic concepts, and other things that freak us out on a regular basis. Presented here are a few robots that attempt to be humanoid or human-like, but come across rather frightening and/or creepy:
We start with the iCub, a humanoid robot developed at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), and currently being adopted by more than 20 laboratories worldwide. The robot includes 53 moters that move its head, arms, hands, waist, and legs.
In this video, researchers use VR with a human to tele-operate a humanoid like robot, who can then walk and interact with other humans in another location. But as seen in the video below, the robot’s child-like face and slow movements just come off as a little frightening:
The fact that iCub doesn’t have a mouth is also very horror-movie-like.
Why is this finger crawling toward me?
A few weeks ago, the Internet freaked out when it saw news of a French researcher who had developed a robotic finger that attaches to a smartphone and can crawl towards its owner. The MobiLimb project is a “shape-changing component with a compact form factor that can be deployed on mobile devices.”
With the finger attachment, it also looks like one of those old-fashioned coin banks that would steal your penny after you pushed a button.
Insert your own Addams Family “Thing” Halloween joke here.
Why are humanoid robots creepy?
In this cool Voice of America article, researchers explain why robots that look like humans make people uneasy. Whether it’s hardwired into our biology or if it’s challenging our notion of what it’s like to be a human, people are freaking out. This video explains more:
Not surprisingly, Hollywood, which is responsible for much of the popular fears of humanoid robots, has taken advantage of these fears with viral marketing for its films and TV shows, especially around Halloween. At the same time, AI is making possible de-aging of actors, “deepfakes,” and reducing the so-called uncanny valley for computer-generated characters.
Don’t forget your robot costume!
OK, so we’re nearing the end of this roundup, and you’ve suddenly realized that you don’t have a costume yet for Halloween. There’s nothing easier to make than a robot costume, as evidenced by the ideas generated by Google:
If you don’t like Google, there’s always Pinterest.
If that’s too difficult, follow this recipe:
- Cardboard boxes (for head, body, and shoeboxes for feet)
- Dryer vents (for arms and legs)
- Plastic solo cups (for ears, eyes, buttons)
- Silver duct tape. Lots of it.
One final Halloween costume reminder: Stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and Clone Troopers from Star Wars ARE NOT ROBOTS.
Note: Senior Editor Eugene Demaitre contributed to this article and is not a robot — really….