The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the government agency that brought you the internet, held a major robotics competition on Friday and Saturday. The magazine IEEE Spectrum compiled a funny video of the humanoid robots losing their balance and falling over.
Don't be fooled into thinking the competition as a whole was a failure. Several robots were able to complete a variety of tasks: driving a vehicle, climbing up stairs, walking on rubble, operating a power tool, and so forth. They did it slowly and with some mishaps, but this still represents dramatic progress.
DARPA hopes this kind of robot can be deployed the next time there's a situation like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster where human first responders would be in serious danger. There are also undoubtedly military applications, which DARPA — an agency of the military — will be happy to exploit.
And as Alex Tabarrok points out, this is a strategy DARPA has pursued before. In 2004, the agency held its first competition for self-driving cars. Every single vehicle failed at the task of driving 150 miles through relatively flat desert terrain. Yet by 2007, self-driving cars could not only drive across the desert, they could navigate urban streets and obey traffic laws, too.
So while humanoid robots are error-prone today, they might not be for long.