Redwood Falls Gazette
  • JOSHUA'S COLUMN — The quandary of lil' robot sidekicks

  • If you watch a lot of movies and TV, it seems almost all the heroes eventually end up with little robot sidekicks....
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  • I’m not sure I’m okay with this whole “everybody has a lil’ robot sidekick” thing. You watch a lot of movies, and it seems almost all the heroes have little robot sidekicks. (At least they seem to in a lot of the movies I watch. The Sense and Sensibility crowd might not be able to relate.) At first, having a lil’ robot sidekick would seem to only have pluses. You don’t have to get up and do things like go to the fridge for a beverage yourself. You can just say, “Lil’ robot sidekick, go get me a beverage from the fridge,” and life is good. But sometimes you just want to do things by yourself, you know? What if the lil’ robot sidekick pushes you back into your easy chair and says, “No. I’ll get it.” Do you argue? And then, what should your lil’ robot sidekick look like? Should it be anthropomorphic and cute, because seriously, how practical is that? If you’re trapped under a Buick and need your lil’ robot sidekick to lift it off you, there’s the danger some well-meaning little old lady will take the lil’ robot sidekick by the hand and pull it away, saying, “Oh, no dear. That’s much too heavy for you. Stand back over here and eat a cookie while the fire department arrives.” Lil’ robot sidekick: “But madam, I am equipped with hydraulic pistons capable of moving 32 tons of weight.” Well-meaning little old lady (trying to pinch the lil’ robot sidekick’s stainless steel cheek): “Oh, you’re so doggoned cute!” Me (still under Buick): “Um, a little help here?” (I look over to see the well-meaning little old lady struggling to bobble the lil’ robot sidekick on her knee.) On the other hand, you could choose to go with the R2-D2 route and have a non-cute, non-humanoid lil’ robot helper. That has many more engineering advantages in terms of building in practical capabilities not limited to the human form. The trade-off is non-humanoid, non-cute lil’ robot helpers might be scary to bystanders who don’t know the situation and can’t interpret it by visual cues. Me (under Buick): “Lil’ robot helper! Lift this thing off me!” Lil’ robot helper: “Gladly, master. Heave ho!” Well-meaning bystander: “Gah! That robot is attacking that innocent man! Get the evil robot!” (Well-meaning bystander leads the crowd to break into a nearby hardware store and pummel the lil’ robot helper into scrap metal with ball-peen hammers.) Don’t wait until it’s too late. Having a lil’ robot helper is a serious responsibility, and you need to start considering the advantages and disadvantages now.
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