Oct. 24, 2012 at 8:25 PM ET
The results are in, and the latest laureates in the Robot Hall of Fame range from the absolutely lovable WALL-E cartoon character to the positively scary BigDog robo-runner. This year's class, announced during a Tuesday night ceremony at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, also includes the pint-sized, soccer-playing NAO humanoid robot and the PackBot bomb-disposal robot.
The Robot Hall of Fame was created in 2003 by Carnegie Mellon University to recognize excellence in robotics technology. More than two dozen machines, real and fictional, have been inducted over the past nine years, but the Class of 2012 is the first to be selected by popular vote instead of a panel of judges.
"More than any previous class of inductees, this group of robots selected by popular vote represents contemporary robotics — robots at the cutting edge of technology — rather than older robots of strictly historical importance," Shirley Saldamarco, the Robot Hall of Fame's director and a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, said in a news release. "Two of our inductees, NAO and Packbot, are commercially available, and BigDog is still the focus of active research. Even our fictional honoree, WALL-E, is from a movie that's just four years old."
More than 17,000 people from around the world participated in the online vote during August and September, the Hall of fame said. The four laureates were chosen from 12 nominees in the categories of education/consumer, entertainment, industrial/service and research.
Unfortunately, for every winner there are two robots that would probably be saying "it's an honor merely to be nominated." If they could talk, that is. The also-rans include the fictional Johnny 5 from the movie "Short Circuit"; NASA's Robonaut 2 android, which is currently being tested on the International Space Station; and the deep-sea-diving Jason remotely operated vehicle.
Johnny 5, at least, can take solace in the fact that he was the runner-up robot in our People's Choice poll, which brought in more than 3,300 votes. Write-in votes were cast for other fictional fan favorites, such as B9 from "Lost in Space" (DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!); Bender, the alcohol-swigging, politically incorrect robot from the "Futurama" TV series; and the robo-crew from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
To learn more about the new inductees, check out the videos below — and then click on the Web links for bios on the other machines honored by the Robot Hall of Fame.
2010 honor roll: NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers; Roomba floor-cleaning machine; da Vinci Surgical System; Huey, Dewey and Louie from "Silent Running"; T-800 Terminator from the "Terminator" film series.
2008 honor roll: Lt. Commander Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"; the Raibert Hopper, a pioneer in robotic locomotion; NavLab 5, an autonomous minivan; Lego Mindstorms educational robotics kits.
2006 honor roll: Aibo robotic dog; SCARA robotic arm; Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still"; David from the movie "A.I."; Maria from the movie "Metropolis."
2004 honor roll: Honda's ASIMO android; the animated Japanese "Astroboy" character; C3PO from the "Star Wars" saga; Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet"; and Shakey the Robot, a mobile robot that could figure out how to get around a room.
2003 honor roll: Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner rover; GM's Unimate assembly-line robotic arm; R2-D2 from "Star Wars"; HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.