The Checkup: When Robots Run the Earth (Literally)

A robot is being developed in Australia to provide companionship and pace-setting for runners.

Photo courtesy Exertion Games Lab

• Let me say this from the get-go: No, this isn’t something from the Onion. Or the Twilight Zone either, for that matter. The Atlantic’s Cities blog reports on a robot being developed at Melbourne’s RMIT University, designed to fly (literally, hover) above the heads of runners to help them keep pace. The prototype is named Joggobot (of course it is), and “the idea is to provide a running companion for people who cannot locate an actual flesh-and-blood one, although it would also be good for folks who shun humanity for the no-pressure company of bots,” reports the Atlantic. The Joggobot has already been in testing with real-life runners, and the makers report that people generally like its company and even tend to attribute to it human-like characteristics. “This can be important for designers,” writes Exertion Games Lab, the group behind the project, “as it changes how to prioritize implementation aspects. For example, we did not consider the visual appearance of the robot initially, but this feedback suggests that changing the robot’s look, like adding eyes, could enhance the user experiences.” Crazy, right? You can get all the nitty-gritty about the specs and design over at the Atlantic, but I want to know: Would you like running with a robot? I can see its usefulness in terms of setting pace (you can apparently program it to fly at whatever pace you’d like in order to force you to keep up), but what about when it runs out of batteries and comes crashing down on a passerby’s head on the Schuylkill Trail. Oh, and I can foresee lots of changes to race rules: “For the safety of our runners, strollers, headphones and Joggobots are strictly forbidden.”

• In other technology news (and also from the Atlantic, oddly enough), writer and practicing physician John Henning Schumann wonders how the adoption of electronic medical records will impact patients and patient care. This about sums up his view: “There’s a pervasive sense that our use of technology has become a wedge between doctors and just about everyone else: Nurses. Other doctors. Worst of all, our patients.” Think he’s right?

• In the category of Things That Are Pretty Stinkin’ Cool, this: HealthDay reports that researchers have decoded the entire genome of a human fetus using only a blood sample from the mother and a saliva sample from the father. Such sequencing could one day be used to learn whether a fetus has one of thousands of genetic disorders.