11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them

Science fiction (sci-fi) has long been the source of inspiration for technological advancement. But could we build some of the most iconic robots today?
Christopher McFadden

Science fiction or sci-fi movies throughout the ages have been filled with robots in many shapes and sizes. They range in scale and complexity and have evolved since their first appearances in the very early days of the silver screen.

But just how many of these are actually possible today given our knowledge of STEM? The following 11 might just be possible if we put our collective minds to the task.

This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) Is the Ultimate AI Car

Any child of the '80's will have fond memories of David Hasselhoff and his equally charismatic crime-fighting partner the talking car KITT. Although at the time it seemed pretty far-fetched, we may have reached a level of technology that could make it possible - at least fairly soon.

KITT was, for all intents and purposes, an AI self-driving car. KITT did, however, have some other advanced tech we couldn't possibly replicate today (molecular bonded shell and defying the laws of physics for instance).

Keeping that aside, advancements and proliferation of self-driving cars, speech recognition, and AI technology is close to making a real-life KITT a reality.

11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them
Source: The Conmunity-Pop Culture Geek/Wikimedia Commons

2. Ex-Machina's Ava could be closer than we think

In case you haven't seen Ex-Machina, one of the main characters, AVA, is an aesthetically beautiful AI robot created by a billionaire Nathan Bates. Bates brings in Caleb (a programmer) to assess the limitations of her AI, if any - and ends up falling for her charms.

According to the story, AVA's AI is based on Bluebook which is the film's version of Google. Her knowledge and character constructed from the near unlimited behavioral data collected by it.

With developments in AI, like Sophia, we can probably say we are more or less at this stage today. 

Her body is a different story, however. Although companies like Boston Dynamics are honing their craft, probably we are still decades away.

3. Atom from Real Steel Might be Possible

The gladiatorial robots in the 2011 film, Real Steel, look impressive and might just be possible today. The mechanical engineering aside, which might be problematic but is making leaps and bounds in recent years, the robot combatants ability to learn from human motor skills and adapt to their opponents could be close.

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According to Drew Bagnell (Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute) studies into robotic balance and fluid movement is making good progress. 

The only bone of contention might be the use of remote controls in the movie. To make bouts compelling and interesting for crowds they would need some level of autonomy for basic joint movements etc.

It is not unreasonable according to experts like Bagnell for such robots to become a reality in a decade or so. Although we are already seeing some pioneering championships. 

11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them
Source: GabboT/Wikimedia Commons

4. BB8 Is Already Real (Sort of)

In the original Star Wars Trilogy, George Lucas et al needed to employ the services of 'vertically challenged' actors like Kenny Baker for some key characters like the Ewoks and the iconic R2 D2. Interestingly, for the recent additions to the series Directors, like JJ Abrams decided to actually build working remotely controlled props for R2 D2's upgrade BB8.

This means that for all intent and purposes, the mechanics of BB8 can be accomplished right now. The only thing we'd need to work on is its general AI which could still take some time to achieve. 

5. Johnny Five From Short Circuit Might Be Possible

Much like BB8, the Director of Short Circuit rejected propositions of using stop-motion to create scenes with Johnny Five in them. This resulted in the need to make working models for the robot in the film.

Johnny Five took about 12 people to operate but the chassis was able to be built back in the 1980's so would be possible today, with upgrades. 

Like most entries on the list, the main issue would be any form of general AI. This would be a real stumbling block right now but might be possible in the not too distant future.

Not to mention Johnny's weaponry as well - that might take some time.

11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them
Source: Bayo/Wikimedia Commons

6. Transformers the Movie 'Quintesson Fish' Are Probably Possible

In the original Transformers the Movie, 1986, there is a scene where one of the main characters, Hotrod, is attacked by robotic automaton fish on the planet Quintessa.

Robotic fish exist in some form or other today with notable examples including MIT's SoFi that has been trialed in the open ocean. From this iconic scene in the movie, the AI wouldn't need to be too sophisticated either. 

For metal fans, the soundtrack is Nothing's Gonna Stand in Our Way from Spectre General (Kick Axe).

7. FX-7 Might Be Saving Lives Very Soon

Blink and you might miss FX-7 in the Empire Strikes Back but it is a medical droid in service of the Rebel Alliance on the planet of Hoth. We've included FX-7 rather than 2-1B owing to its more utilitarian aesthetics and apparent lack of general AI.

Medical robots are advancing in sophistication day by day with some robots finding applications in real-life surgery today.

8. The Cheat Entry: Bruce from Jaws

Interesting piece of movie trivia for this entry but the enormous Great White Shark in Jaws was actually called Bruce by the production team. Since the mechanical engineering for the shark existed, more or less, in the late 1970's we can safely conclude this 'robot' exists today.

If you wanted to generously extend 'Bruce' to actually being a robotic shark there have been some advancements in robotics towards this goal. Like other entries on the list general AI of the robot is still a little way off.

11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them
Source: William Warby/Flickr

9. Baymax from Big Hero Six Might Be Possible

Believe it or not but Carnegie Mellon School of Robotics is trying to build a real-life Baymax from Big Hero Six.

Granted it's not an exact facsimile of the now iconic sci-fi robot but its pretty close.

11 Sci-fi Robots That Might Actually Work if We Built Them
Source: Z22/Wikimedia Commons

10. Bladerunner 'Pleasure Bots' Are Sort of With Us

Pleasure robots like Pris Statton in Blade Runner might be closer than we think. Although, like others, the AI needed is some way off there are sex robots in existence today.

If this niche commodity 'kicks off' then it will only be a matter of time before the technology catches up with sci-fi.

11. Johnny Cabs From Total Recall Should Be Possible

Recent advancements in autonomous vehicles will inevitably lead to forms of self-driving public transport in the not so distant future. The only question left is whether we'd want some form of synthetic 'driver' to interact with or not.

Via: Slashfilm


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