The Shittiest Robots of 2015

Here’s your annual reminder that robots will not take over the world in 2016.

2015 was a banner year for utterly terrifying robots. We're talking robot cheetahs that can hurdle over obstacles while running at high speed, cars that can drive themselves, and—oh great—an industrial robot repurposed to become a master samurai.

Academics and philosophers have been telling us that it's only a matter of time before these highly advanced machines are finally capable of killing us all, and captains of industry just collectively funded a $1 billion initiative to make sure artificial intelligence doesn't go all The Matrix on us one day soon.

But in this environment, it's perhaps good for one's mental health to remember that most robots are actually complete and utter shit.

In reality, the average robot is poorly built, even more poorly thought out, and exist for reasons as inscrutable as the minds that dreamed them up. Even the million-dollar robots made by the big players—MIT, DARPA, and the like—can fall into the "shitty robot" category. Not because they lack in the engineering department, but because they occasionally fail so spectacularly. The best robots are shitty robots too, sometimes.

It's been a year since Motherboard's last round-up of robots that failed at, well, everything. Now, I present the shittiest robots of 2015.

Think of it as a form of self care.


GIF: YouTube

Here's a story about human folly involving a wooden box stuffed full of components controlling a flailing rubber tentacle with a knife attached. Based on a YouTube video describing its construction, it appears as though the inventor here slapped together an Arduino circuit board and a LittleBits kit—cutesy tools that make circuit building and coding about as easy as snapping Legos together—and then stuffed it all in a box with a motor. The result: a terrifying tentacle device that lacerates anyone who gets a bit too close with a Swiss Army knife.

Apparently, the inventor hadn't figured out a way to turn his indiscriminate murder machine off at the time the video was made, so let's all just imagine that it's still psychotically slashing away at thin air to a Rob Zombie soundtrack.


GIF: Simone Giertz

You know those late-night infomercials for useless kitchen appliances that have a "before" and "after" clip? The "before" clip might show, say, an old lady trying to pour herself a glass of juice but instead of pouring the juice into the cup, she misses and it spills all over the table and the jug falls and explodes and the old lady rolls her eyes and throws her arms up as if to say, "Wow, I wish I could purchase a product on television that would make this unbearably difficult daily process just a little easier!" Cue the product to solve all your extremely difficult juice-pouring woes.

This robot, built by professional (educational) shitbot-maker Simone Giertz, is pretty much the opposite of whatever that ostensibly helpful As Seen on TV product might be. If you use it, instead of making breakfast easier, it turns the uneventful morning routine of pouring yourself a bowl of cereal into a scene from Apocalypse Now.

As Giertz wrote in her post about the bot on Motherboard: "All in all, preparing breakfast with a robot arm gets 4/10 stars. Messy. Crazy inefficient. Didn't actually manage to feed me anything."


GIF: Vimeo

Let's just get this out of the way: hitchBOT is meant to inspirational or something. The adorable little robot was designed by sociologists at the University of Toronto, and traversed Canada and Europe by trading on the kindness of strangers. Until it was mutilated on the mean streets of Philly, it reminded us of the goodness in ourselves, or whatever.

It's also a really shitty robot.

Adorably shitty, yes, but a pile of garbage held together with tape nonetheless. We're talking pool noodles and a plastic pail. Now that that's out of the way, let's move on.


GIF: YouTube

This robot was designed by researchers at UC San Diego to test how babies and mothers make each other smile. That's funny, because this thing makes me want to cry.

This is one of those rare cases where a relatively advanced robot gains a coveted position on the pantheon of shit, not because it was poorly built or didn't accomplish its purpose but… Jesus Christ, would you just look at this thing?


GIF: Vimeo

It's 3 AM, another night spent walking home from the party to take my angst out in the Fallout 4 wasteland, and I start swiping on Tinder, eyes glazed over after too many dark and stormies. Thankfully, I don't own this robot that reads your gross, sweaty palms, and swipes based on your biometric readings, all while speaking existential horrors in a Siri-like voice, like, "Determine if this person has any value." Pause. "Nope."

Unlike the Tinder-bot that made last year's list, this one is actually pretty well put together, if a little rough around the edges, and comes to us from Nicole He, a graduate student in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. I'd hate to call this thing shitty, as in it's shittily made or executed—it's pretty damn good for an art thing, actually—but for reminding me of my terrible post-midnight decision making process, it's on the list.


OK, that's a lot of reading, and you're probably tired of me yammering on about bad robots—speaking of which, has anyone seen Chappie? Ha ha. Just kidding. Unless you're sci-fi author William Gibson, who apparently loved the flop about a criminal robot with a cockney accent? Anyway, you may not be tired of digging through the troves of shitty, or otherwise unsettling robots, so here's some more robots that, while crappy, weren't quite crappy enough to make the list.


A robot made of two giant knives that chops carrots with the finesse of a drunk, uh, me.

A robot "mother" that judges its children. Technically amazing. Existentially horrifying.

This year's crop of bots from Hebocon, the robot competition that reminded us all that sometimes feeling like a box of kleenex being propelled by flailing dildos is just part of life and that is OK.

Pretty much every robot from DARPA's annual competition. These are actually pretty technically advanced and impressive bots, but sometimes the best they can do is fall on their faces.