Quirky Robots Invade SXSW Festival (Photos)

AUSTIN, Texas — Watch out, Furby: You've got some competition! Several new robots showcased at the "Robot Petting Zoo" here at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival gave '90s-era robots a run for their money. From an adorable cardboard robot that resembles the bot from the 1986 film "Short Circuit" to a six-legged creature that could beat anyone in a staring contest, here are some of the quirkiest robots seen at the conference. (Photo credits: Tia Ghose/Live Science)

Bug eyes

The six-legged insectlike DAR-1 is a social robot that locks eyes with you and won't let go of your gaze, no matter how much you would like it to. The robot, made with a $40 motherboard, was trained to recognize human faces by looking at thousands of photos of people. Interestingly, the robot seems to have a particular fondness for ladies: When a group of people surround him, DAR-1 seems to prefer locking eyes with women, perhaps because the robot's training set included more pictures of women.

Johnny 5 lookalike

This social robot has a tiny cardboard face with winsome eyes and a wide, appealing smile. The bot asks personal (some might say nosy) questions when you press a button on its side. The robot is designed to foster intimacy and closeness with its questions, such as, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Muppet baby?

Another robot, called Muppette, is a flying drone that will include a 3D printer, a GPS device, a laser range finder and a copter. The all-in-one device is still under development.

Construction crew

The flying drone is designed to go into remote regions where traditional transportation is lacking. One possibility is that a flock of Muppettes could go into a remote region after a humanitarian crisis and deliver supplies that are printed by the drone itself. The flying bots could also make up an autonomous construction crew, building things on-site as they work.

Brain control drone

If the prospect of using a computer or a joystick to control a drone sounds like too much work, this robot may be the answer. The flying drone (dressed here in a monkey costume of sorts) can be controlled by brain waves.A specially designed brain-wave device, which can be used by people with disabilities, controls the flying drone.


Even robots have playtime nowadays. This device, called the Ozobot, is a fun little robot that learns to navigate a path, flashing blue light as it moves along. The tiny bot is designed to recognize the difference between light and dark lines, and is trained to follow the dark ones.

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.