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Bossa Nova Robotics Launches Mobi Research Ballbot

BNR commercializes a technology from CMU in the form of a robot that balances on a ball

2 min read
Bossa Nova Robotics Launches Mobi Research Ballbot

Bossa Nova Robotics has just introduced a brand new research platform based on Carnegie Mellon's ballbot spherical locomotion platform. Called "mObi" (which I'll be capitalizing "Mobi" because, seriously now, c'mon guys), it's "the first step towards the creation of a 21st century personal robotics platform for everyday consumers."

Last we heard from Bossa Nova was back in 2009, when they started commercializing toys with wheel-legs (another development from Carnegie Mellon robotics), including Prime-8 the gorilla and Penbo the penguin. Mobi isn't destined for the consumer market, though: it's for research into human-robot interaction in home and business environments. Inside is some unspecified "next generation" Intel hardware running either a Windows or ROS operating system. Mobi has a tablet dock for a head, a PrimeSense sensor in the neck,  and something called an "Emotive Light Array."

We don't have any vids (yet) of Mobi ballin' around, but if you're not familiar with ballbots, here's some footage of ReZero, a European ballbot project from a couple years back:

Ballbots are great because they can move in any direction without turning, and they have a very small footprint, which is ideal for environments designed for humans. Ballbots are terrible because they're not statically stable: since they're constantly balancing themselves, if you shut the power off, they'll faceplant. Mobi appears to have solved this with some sort of rapid deploy safety system that looks like it consists of six legs that shoot down around the base if the robot ever loses power or control. Anybots QB has a "kickstand" that accomplishes the same thing.

Ballbot will be available to researchers and developers in 2013 for an as-yet unspecified price. What we've heard, though, is that this thing is going to be very low cost, and that future generations will have more ways of interacting with their environment, eventually leading up to an affordable and capable general-purpose household robot.

[ Bossa Nova mObi ]

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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
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

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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