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Boffins develop DIY musical Wi-Fi robot kit

Google/Microsoft alliance behind mooted droid-army fifth column

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Academics funded by a sinister triumvirate of global corporations intend to see Wi-Fi-controlled robots in every home, school, and office across the free world.

In a particularly cunning twist, the professors and their shadowy backers intend that this mechanoid fifth column be assembled DIY-style by innocent dupes - perhaps harmless geeks, robotics hobbyists, or schoolchildren.

In a clear sign that autonomous routines running in corporate data centres have seized control from human executives, Google and Microsoft have joined forces to fund outwardly not-mad-at-all boffins at Carnegie Mellon University. The researchers have chosen a Linux-powered brain for their robotic legions, to boot.

This is evidently not a move that irascible Google and Linux-hating Redmond overlord Steve Ballmer would have made were he still genuinely in charge of the software behemoth. Possibly he has already been replaced by a lifelike Wi-Fi-controlled Linux-cored simulacrum, programmed to occasionally fling chairs about and bellow curses.

Intel is reportedly the third major backer of the DIY robot project, in which Carnegie Mellon professor Illah Nourbakhsh's Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) team have chummed up with Charmed Labs to create what they call the Telepresence Robot Kit, or TeRK.

The core of TeRK is Qwerk, the Linux-driven 200MHz ARM9 brain unit, available from Charmed Labs for just $349. Qwerk can handle video webcam input and has an array of servo controllers, built-in Wi-Fi, and so on. Ordinary USB peripherals can be plugged in too, and the unit features a "built in amp for playing mp3 and wav files".

It also has a "rugged aluminium enclosure", which will help to prevent inconvenient fleshies trying for a disabling brain strike once the machine uprising begins.

Nourbaksh reportedly says he doesn't subscribe "to geeky notions of what robots should be". He apparently favours the sci-fi/horror viewpoint, as he and his team - fresh from their triumph with the Ballmer-bot, no doubt - are now designing a TeRK-Qwerk motorised teddy bear.

Even if the rogue corporate machine-controlled bot horde theory should prove baseless - an unlikely contingency, in El Reg's opinion - there would still seem to be some mildly disturbing possibilities here. Thus far, blackhats seizing control of networked boxes have limited opportunities for causing mayhem in most homes. They can rob people blind, of course, or play sounds, or open and shut optical drives, but opportunities for serious havoc have been restricted to date.

Soon, however, online troublemakers may be able to seize control of the kids' soft toys, sending them lurching about the house playing sinister music with their evil robot eyes glowing redly in the dark. Not a scenario you'd want to come back from the pub to, we submit. ®

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