With robots, there are three categories it seems: scary, benign, and cute. Here's an example of the latter.
The robot isn't just a cute pet. It uses voice-recognition technology, facial recognition, and natural language processing to talk with astronauts in space and scientists in the flight-control room on Earth. The mini-robot will converse with Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut on the space station, and also transmit communications from Earth to the astronaut. But there's an equally important goal for little Kirobo -- to see if it can be an emotional anchor for those who are isolated.
You know that robots as a species are advancing when they begin to have their own games...
This year's contest is particularly relevant. The Federal Aviation Administration recently certified two drones -- Boeing's Insitu ScanEagle and AeroVironment's Puma -- to operate in the US. Edward Snowden was admitted to Russia after fleeing the US with classified secrets he removed from a secure area on CDs. The competition is using helicopter-like robots (not fixed-wing vehicles like the ScanEagle and Puma) to retrieve flash drives (instead of CDs), but the relevance is unmistakable.
Now, the scary variety:
Isn't he a hunk? It looks like a robot toy that my son played with, and an entity you wouldn't want to meet up with in the proverbial dark alley. It's DARPA's high mobility humanoid, built by Boston Dynamics, that can handle rough terrain and hazardous situations (read: Fukushima). There are potentially many scenarios in the industrial world where a robot like Atlas could perform.
On a more serious note:
Now robots are going to work as test drivers for auto companies. Ford recently announced that its engineers have developed "the industry's first robotic test driving program." It is now in use at Ford's Michigan Proving Grounds in Romeo, Mich. -- "in order to meet demands that Ford trucks undergo ever more strenuous Built Ford Tough testing with greater frequency."