Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Butt-shaking, bagpipe-playing robot overlords

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Would you like to know what's wrong with the world?

I'd be happy to tell you: What's wrong with the world is human beings are being forced to do too many disgusting, menial jobs that could be done faster and better by robots.

Consider the troubling issue of removing layers of burnt-on crud, such as hotdogs that have been transformed into blackened lumps of carbon, from your barbecue grill.

This is one of those joyless chores that divides us along gender lines. For instance, a woman faced with a grimy grill will simply pick up a wire brush and start scrubbing, thereby wasting several valuable seconds that could have been spent on something more important, such as operating a TV remote control.

In contrast, a typical guy will frown at his grill and think to himself: "Why the (bad word) hasn't somebody invented a robot to do this for me?"

Well, guys, prepare to be extremely excited, because, according to a news release just sent to me by Kevin Prokosh, our paper's theatre writer, our wildest BBQ dreams are now reality.

This release breathlessly announced the birth of Grillbot, the world's first fully automated grill-cleaning robot that is, and I will quote it directly, "the must-have gift this holiday season." Available at for $99.95, it's a flying-saucer-shaped miniature robot equipped with three electric motors and a tiny computer brain that, with the touch of a button, orders it to roll around your crud-encrusted barbecue grill while you guzzle beer.

How has western civilization survived so long without this invention? I don't have a clue, but that's not the point. The point is it's just the tip of a gigantic iceberg, which, if flipped over, would reveal an army of scary robots that can do just about everything better than a human being.

In Scotland, for instance, an exhibition at the opening of the Scottish Parliament featured "McBlare," a robot designed by Prof. Roger Dannenberg at Carnegie Mellon University that can, quote, "play the bagpipes faster than a human being."

I think I speak for most people with ears when I say the main reason non-Scottish persons can't appreciate listening to the bagpipes is that humans just can't play them fast enough for our refined tastes.

In China, meanwhile, an inventor named Tao Xiangli -- famous for building a working submarine out of scrap metal after dropping out of elementary school in Grade 5 -- has whipped up a human-sized "robot roommate" that lives in his bedroom in Beijing.

From what we have seen in online videos, Tao's do-it-yourself robot roommate doesn't do anything even remotely useful, which means it's EXACTLY like the human roommates we all had in college.

Speaking of useful, the winner of this year's Electrolux Design Lab competition in Sweden was a Colombian student named Perez Zapata who dreamed up the perfect appliance for the house of tomorrow -- flying mini-robot cleaners.

What we are talking about here is, quote, "an automated cleaning system consisting of hundreds of flying mini-robots. The robots clean surfaces by touching them with a drop of water. (The system) scans the house, determines the areas to clean and sends the robots flying."

I'm not saying I would not like to release a swarm of these mini-robot janitors in my daughter's room; I'm just saying I would not like to find out how they would respond if they spotted me lying on the dingy couch in the den dribbling onion dip onto my wife's semi-clean carpets.

And for weary guys like me, Double Robotics has created a $2,499 robot that consists of an iPad "head" attached to a pole, at the base of which is a two-wheeled roller that, when operated by remote control, allows a robot wearing your face to zip around the workplace and become as unpopular as you are in person.

But the most terrifying creation we have come across in our research is "Fonzie, the twerking robot," a funky robot the size of a canned ham that was originally designed for fighting contests in Korea but has been reprogrammed by the geniuses at RoboSavvy to perform the frenetic butt-gyrating dance move made famous by Miley Cyrus, who should be replaced by a robot.

The point we are making today is this -- the revolution is coming. It is only a matter of time before the tables are turned and we humans are enslaved by all-powerful, butt-shaking, bagpipe-playing robot overlords. On the upside, our barbecue grills will be cleaner than ever.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 A2

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