Robot Update

More news from the world of tomorrow (taken in full from the AP via WaPo):
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 19, 2004; 9:04 AM

TOKYO - Seiko Epson Corp. is developing a flying robot that looks like a miniature helicopter and is about the size of a giant bug. The company hopes it'll prove handy for security, disaster rescue and space exploration.

The robot, 3.35 inches tall and 0.4 ounces, follows a flight-route program sent by Bluetooth wireless from a computer.

On board is a 32-bit microcontroller, a super-thin motor, a digital camera that sends blurry images and a tiny gyro-sensor, which the company said may also appear in digital cameras and cell phones as soon as this year to help deliver more precise images.

The Micro Flying Robot barely managed to get off the ground in a demonstration this week. It crashed off the table at one point and required long waits for battery changes. It can fly just three minutes at a time, for now, and its lift was wobbly because the machine's precision is not much better than a wind-up toy.

But developers say its power, relative to its minuscule size, makes it potentially a useful tool for rescue and surveillance. The robot is not yet available for sale; a commercial model is planned for release in two or three years.

This is...kind of cool. Moreso, it's potentially cool, but given the penultimate paragraph - i.e., the robot doesn't really work, per se - it's interesting that this was thought worthy of an AP story, and that the WaPo would pick it up.

So the important question becomes - why is that? There are dozens of robotics programs at top-flight universities that do far, far, far cooler shit than this every day. So is this notable because it's done by a corporation? And if so, why is corporate work more interesting than publicly funded research, in the eyes of the WaPo's editors?

Is it because they are developing something that people (and not even people, really - other corporations and government agencies) will be able to buy?

What's going on here? I mean, robots are really freakin' cool (more on this later - I mean, clearly, but there's something specific I have in mind), and I'm all for robots.

But this is kind of strange.

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