AI gets real

Artificial intelligence projects are moving from the lab to the real world.

If your definition of artificial intelligence is a humanoid robot that can walk, talk, and chew gum then AI hasn't yet delivered on its promise. But just wait. AI researchers are making major strides in developing machines that can perform human functions. Here are some examples.

Robotic helper for the elderly or handicapped

Care-O-bot is a mobile robot assistant designed to assist elderly or handicapped people in daily life activities. Care-O-bot can manipulate simple objects found typically in home environments. It is equipped with a manipulator arm, adjustable walking supporters, a tilting sensor head containing two cameras and a laser scanner, and a hand-held control panel. Care-O-bot is a development of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) in Stuttgart, Germany.

Watch Care-O-Bot in action here.

Mind-controlled prosthetic arm

Segway-inventor Dean Kamen has been working on a mind-controlled prosthetic robot arm, under a federal grant. Dubbed "Luke," the arm gives the user the same degrees of movement as a natural arm, and is sensitive enough to pick up a piece of paper, a wine glass or even a grape. The mind control part: in one scenario the user controls the arm through existing nerves.

See Kamen's amazing demo here.

NASA's man on Mars

The Mars lander is able to navigate on the surface of the Red Planet. Phoenix's 7.7-foot robot arm has been digging in the Martian soil and ice for 2.5 hours per day, delivering samples for analysis.

Who says robots aren't good at social networking? Phoenix has its own Twitter feed.

It's not brain surgery...Oh, it is brain surgery

NeuroArm is a surgical robotic system, developed at the University of Calgary, that can do delicate brain surgery. The robotic arm works in conjunction with imaging equipment to enable physicians to manipulate tools at a microscopic level.

See the NeuroArm in action here.

Your digital secretary and all-around e-buddy

Ultra Hal Assistant is described as a digital secretary that uses AI to understand spoken English commands and to learn over time. Ultra Hal (or Helen if you prefer a female version) can remember anything you tell it, automatically dial phone numbers, remind you of appointments, do Web searches, launch applications, etc. etc.

Talk to Hal online.

A floor-cleaning robot

iRobot has a line of robotic products, including a vacuum cleaner (Roomba), floor washer (Scooba), gutter cleaner (Looj) and shop floor vac (Dirt Dog).

Walk like a man

Dexter has flexible joints, driven by air cylinders. It can walk on hard or soft surfaces, can run over uneven ground and can even jump. Dexter is built by Anybots, Inc.

See Dexter walk here.

Bionic man hands

Touch Bionics has developed a prosthetic with five individually powered digits. The i-Limb uses a two-input myoelectric (muscle signal) to open and close the hand's life-like fingers.

Watch the iLimb Hand in action


Robot Chevy drives itself to the levee

Carnegie Mellon's robot Chevy won the recent DARPA Urban Challenge (the prize was $2M.) The self-driving SUV won the competition by following California driving laws, navigated a course in a safe and stable manner, and hitting the finish line first.

Walking the walk

Researcher Daan Hobbelen of TU Delft developed a new, highly advanced walking robot that can in turn help people with walking difficulties through improved diagnoses, training and rehabilitation equipment.

Watch Flame go for a stroll.

Taking it to the streets

Clearflow was developed by AI researchers at Microsoft to apply machine learning to the problem of urban traffic jams. The Web-based service claims to be able to give drivers accurate alternative route information because it predicts where drivers will go when they move off of congested main roads.

Related story: Your car - the ultimate 'mobile computer'

Let us know what you thought of our picks, or let us know what we missed.  Plus, vote for your favorite robotic project.