A man crouching beside a mechanical deer


From American forest to Chinese restaurant, robots are helping out in many unexpected ways.

Fictional robots have always tended to be humanoid machines capable of lots of differrent tasks. In the real world, mechanical systems are taking over many mundane and dangerous tasks but tend to be designed to do just one job well.

1 US wildlife officials are using mechanical ‘Robo Deer’, which look remarkably like the real thing and can be moved by remote control, to catch illegal hunters. Following their introduction in Sarasota County, Florida, two poachers were caught almost immediately. According to Sgt Gary Kraayenbrink of the region’s Special Operations Agricultural Unit, setting up a decoy deer in a woodland area helps to save a significant amount of time and manpower.

2 Work at a robot-themed restaurant in the city of Harbin in China’s  north-eastern Heilongjiang Province is spread around 20 mechanical staff. As well as preparing food in the kitchen, some are able to hold a basic conversation and wait on customers, working for 10 hours at a time on a full battery.

3 Cows need to be milked two or three times a day, just one of the agricultural tasks where machines have made farmers’ lives easier by taking over from humans. The most sophisticated ‘voluntary’ systems allow cattle to choose for themselves when they want to be milked.

4 Waltzing androids created by Professor Kazuhiro Kosuge of the University of Tohoku are past holders of the title of Japan’s ‘coolest robots of the year’. The female robots, which can be led through a dance, directing their own steps as necessary, were developed with support from industrial robotics specialist Nomura Unison Co.

5 Amanda Boxtel, who lost the use of her legs in a skiing accident in 1992, was able to stand and walk for the first time in 2011 when she became the ‘test pilot’ for the Ekso wearable robotic exoskeleton. The battery-driven device is guided by hand movements and recognises the movement intentions of the user.

6 In Japan, motorists are often directed around roadworks by a figure called Anzen Taro, or ‘Safety Sam’. Between five and ten of the robots are hit by careless drivers every year.

7 Radio-controlled robots are playing an increasingly important part in dealing with improvised explosive devices. Here, a German Armed Forces bomb disposal unit is pictured moving through Khanabad, near Kunduz, Afghanistan, where they used a device to disarm a homemade bomb that had been buried near the home of the local police chief.

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