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Autonomous Boats Take On Obstacle Courses, Fake Fires in RoboBoat Competition

Student-designed robotic boats faced obstacle courses, fake fires, and wayward swans in the 2011 RoboBoat competition

1 min read

Somehow, it’s been an entire year since the 2010 RoboBoat Competition. Rather than letting all of those industrious teams improve their robots to be better able to complete the existing course, the organizers added a whole bunch of practically impossible new challenges. Practically impossible, sure, but also pretty sweet, since they involve using deployable rovers to retrieve objects and autonomous water cannons to put out (fake) fires.

You may be wondering why such seemingly trivial tasks like navigating between different colored buoys is so tricky, but remember that this is all taking place on water, which is covered in nasty things like reflections and waves and hostile swans. So whenever the sun angle changes (an event that tends to happen quite often throughout the day), everything looks slightly different for the boats’ cameras, sensors, and vision algorithms.

Anyway, luckily for you there’s some excellent video recap of all three days of the event, so you can ignore my blathering and just watch things unfold for yourself. Swans beware!

[ RoboBoat 2011 ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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