It's wasn't so long ago that giving someone a robot as a gift would have been a nutty idea, but thanks to the Roomba, it's now almost normal. iRobot isn't the only company on the block anymore when it comes to giftable robots, though. As consumer electronics get faster and better and cheaper, more possibilities open up for affordable robots that can help make our lives easier and more fun.
We've got 11 'bots for you that you that would be perfect present for the geek in your life who's either lazy, wants to take over the world, or both.
1. Evolution Robotics Mint
Mint is fresh and clean and not a vacuum. It's basically a little robotic version of a Swiffer. You stick a wet or dry cloth under Mint, set it to sweep mode or mop mode, and off it goes, no annoying vacuum noise and no fuss.
To navigate, Mint uses an indoor GPS system that projects infrared dots on your ceiling, and by watching those dots, the bot knows where it's been and where to go next. It works great on hardwood floors, but can't handle carpet.
2. Neato XV-11
The reason you want a Neato XV-11 to do your vacuuming is because it has a badass laser sensor that creates a detailed 3D map of the room as it cleans. It knows where your walls are, where your furniture is, and how not to run into things.
Unlike a Roomba, the XV-11 cleans everything in one single pass, and if it catches you walking around while it's working, it remembers where you've been so that it can go back and clean there later, you dirty human you.
3. Aldebaran Robotics Nao
Nao is one of the more sophisticated hobby robots you could ever hope own. He's got cameras for eyes, speakers for ears, hands with fingers, an embedded computer that runs Linux, and something I've always wanted, a swappable head.
Voice localization and recognition programming means that Nao knows who's talking to him and what they're saying, and if his emotional program has him in a good mood, he might even do what you want him to. Nao was designed to play robot soccer, but he also enjoys dancing, frisbee, and recycling ducks.
4. PhantomX Hexapod
This six-legged robot is big, fast and freaky. The PhantomX hexapod can skitter along at nearly two miles an hour, which is pretty quick, but not quite so quick that you couldn't escape from it if you had to, which you might.
It's also strong enough to carry anything up to eight pounds, which is easily enough for things like laptops, gripper arms, cameras, tasers, flamethrowers, cats, grenade launchers, babies, or anything else you've got lying around the house.
5. Pleo RB
The next generation of Pleo is a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from the original baby robot Camarasaurus. Most of the technical issues like skin cracking and poor battery life has been fixed, and Pleo has been endowed with more sensors, more capabilities, and more personality.
In addition to aesthetic improvements like random eye colors and skin patterns, Pleo now comes as either a boy or a girl. If you put two boys in the same room together, they scream, if you put two girls together, they croon quietly at each other, and if you put a boy and a girl in the same room and turn out the lights... Well, I'm not going to tell you what happens then, but if you like hot robot-on-robot action, Pleo is definitely for you.
6. LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Do robots intimidate you? LEGO feels your pain, and the Mindstorms NXT system is ready to ease you smoothly into robotics like a bowling ball dropping into a vat of molasses. All of the motors and sensors you'll need plug right in to LEGO's NXT brick, and the programming interface is as drag 'n drop as it gets.
The NXT system may be simple to use, but with fancy sensors like color detecting cameras and ultrasonic proximity detectors, you can make some pretty sweet stuff, from walking humanoids to two-wheel balancing robots to deadly scorpions.
7. WowWee Rovio
Rovio is one of those rare consumer robots that somehow manages to be relatively cheap and relatively useful at the same time. It's a telepresence robot, which is another way of saying that it's good for spying on your house, pets, or family while you're not around. Simply log in to your Rovio with a cell phone or copmuter, and the robot will wake up and start streaming video and audio back to you via Wi-Fi.
Rovio is fully controllable, and will transmit two-way audio if you need to yell at someone or want to mess with your dog. If you get lost, Rovio can even navigate back to its charging dock all by itself.
8. Parrot AR Drone
Quadrotors are the new hotness when it comes to flying robots, but they're devilishly hard to control. The Parrot AR Drone does a lot of the hard work for you by using a bunch of sensors to keep it from crashing into the ground or escaping into the sky. A foam hull protects it from running into objects while simultaneously making sure it doesn't accidentally decapitate anyone.
You control the drone with your iPad or iPhone, and it streams video back to you over an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection. There are a bunch of augmented reality games that you can play with a pair of these drones, but just flying it around on its own is a lot of fun too.
9. Husqvarna Automower
The reason that robots exist is to do jobs that humans hate to do. The Husqvarna Automower will happily mow your lawn 24 hours a day, rain or shine, stopping only to return to its charging dock.
It has three blades underneath plus a solar panel on top that can extend the running time of the mower by 25% if the weather is good. You'll have to bury a wire around the edges of your lawn to keep the robot from running amok, but if it does manage to escape or get stuck, it'll text you for help.
10. Anybots QB
QB is basically a gigantic, super fancy version of the Rovio. It's a telepresence robot the size of a person, the idea being that it's more effective to interact with people remotely if you have a physical, eye-level robotic presence. QB can be controlled from any computer, and a short range laser sensor in the base detects obstacles to help compensate for the fact that you're a terrible driver.
The robot speeds around at up to 3.5 mph on two wheels, balancing itself Segway-style. With a pan and tilt camera, a laser
cannon pointer and an array of microphones sending back high quality audio, it's obviously not the same as being there, but it's pretty close. Plus, you can run over people and then pretend it was an accident.
11. Willow Garage PR2
PR2 is designed to be the one robot that can do absolutely anything. It's packed (like, seriously, packed) with sophisticated sensors and hardware, including a head with five cameras and a texture projection system, counterbalanced arms with wrist cameras, a torso that moves up and down to reach things on counters, and a base containing two quad-core i7 Xeon processors and 24 gigs of RAM.
With its open source ROS operating system, PR2's potential is limitless, and as universities all over the world develop cool new capabilities for their PR2s, your PR2 will be able to download code and learn. Already, PR2 knows how to fold towels, play pool, make pancakes, deliver mail, play music, sort socks, and most importantly fetch and open any beer except a Bud Light.