The world is not exactly awash in robot news these days.
But this year, the winner of the $250m Grand Prize in the Design and Technology category is a robot named ‘Sonic’.
Named after the character Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s the world’s first robot designed by a woman.
Its makers, Semiconductor Robotics and the US company Softbank Robotics, say it’s “a true achievement”.
The robot is based on the classic cartoon character, but the design has taken some radical leaps.
Sonic was designed as a human-like humanoid, but when it arrived at the competition, it had to adapt to a whole new breed of robot.
It can’t just walk around, but it can walk inside walls, it can climb walls, and it can even pick up and put down objects.
Its creators say the design makes it “an amazing platform for learning and problem solving”.
But the robot’s creators have also built in a lot of human emotions, such as fear and anger, into the robot.
Sonic is a very human robot.
“The robot is able to feel its emotions through its sensors,” says Semiconductors chief technology officer Adam Meyerson.
“That means it can actually feel the emotions of other robots.”
But what makes Sonic so special is that it can see, hear, and hear what it’s feeling, says Softbank’s chief scientist, Dr Daniela Bocci.
“Its sensors and cameras are built into the shape of the robot, so it can hear the emotions coming from other robots around it.”
Sonic is also equipped with a camera that captures images of objects, including a picture of a cat and a dog.
It’s also equipped to detect if it is being followed by another robot.
And it’s able to respond to its environment, which sounds very much like the human ability to think.
But it has a huge downside, says SICR’s Dr Meyinger: “It’s very, very, human-looking.
It has very human emotions.”
The robot will need to learn to recognise its surroundings before it can start using it for more dangerous tasks, like cleaning up graffiti.
It will also need to find new ways of interacting with humans, such an interaction with a child.
And its designers are also concerned about the robots safety: “We are trying to make sure the robot is safe so it won’t do anything dangerous,” says Dr Meylingson.
“We’re very careful with our safety, we’re very carefully looking for safety.”
Sonic won’t be able to travel very far, but its creators say it will be able explore “very large spaces”.
It’s not just the robot itself that’s the focus of the Grand Prize.
The competition is being held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.
Semicronics has also made a robot called ‘Necessary’ that can do all sorts of work in a home, like opening locks and shutting doors.
It won the Grand prize in the Robotics category, too, but this time, SICRs technology won out.
“Necesary is a machine that can go into any room in the house and shut the doors,” says SoftBank’s Boccesi.
“It can do so without any human intervention.”
Sonic’s design is “an impressive achievement” by the makers of the new robot, says Boccei.
Sonic’s creators are also optimistic about Sonic’s future.
“I think Sonic will be a big part of the future of robotics,” says Bocacei, “because the robots that we’re designing are very good, very well-engineered robots.
They are not too much more complicated than a house and a kitchen.”