As capable and adaptable as Baxter is, it’s not a robot that’s well known for its mobility. You can get some wheels for it, but you’re still stuck pushing it around when you want it to move anywhere. Sensing an opportunity in the forthcomingage ofmobilemanipulators, Clearpath Robotics is announcing Ridgeback, an “omnidirectional development platform” designed to give Baxter, or any other research robot, some much-needed mobility.

Ridgeback weights 125 kg and can haul around up to 100 kg on its back. It rides on four independently controlled Swedish wheels, which is the general term for mecanum wheels, which is the specific term for those weird-looking wheels that can go sideways. This drive system allows Ridgeback to translate in any direction, as well as rotate in place. It has a top speed of 1.1 m/s, and can run for up to eight hours, although it’ll obviously tire out earlier if you’ve got a bunch of stuff plugged into it.

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As far as sensors go, each Ridgeback comes standard with a 10-meter, 270-degree navigation laser mounted in the front, along with the option for one at the back. An integrated computer comes standard, as does out of the box ROS compatibility, just like with pretty much everything Clearpath puts together.

Ridgeback will run you between US $35,000 and $40,000, depending on how you’d like it configured, and it’ll be on display at Clearpath Robotics’ booth at ICRA 2015 in Seattle.

[ Clearpath Robotics ]

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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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