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Sarcos Robot Can Mimic Your Terrible Dancing

Ben Stephens is teaching humanoid robots to dance while not falling over, a skill that many humans have yet to master

1 min read

CMU's Ben Stephens is lucky enough to have a Sarcos humanoid to play with, and play with it he has, using a motion capture system to teach the robot to dance, if you want to call what the robot's doing dancing. There's some serious researchy stuff going on also, though: while dancing, the robot manages to not fall over, dynamically keeping its balance while coming as close as possible to replicating the captured human dance movements.

In unstructured environments (like any environment where humans are allowed to run around), balance is a big issue for robots, since they never know when they may accidentally get shoved by a wayward human. And it's important that the robot be able to deal with being shoved, partially for the sake of the complicated and expensive robot, but also for any small children and/or pets who may find themselves underneath a robot with inadequate balancing skills. To this end, Ben has been teaching the Sarcos robot to deal with a push in the same way that humans do: by taking a step forward to keep its balance:

If you've ever watched humanoid hobby robots do just about anything, you've probably noticed that they're fairly horrible at keeping their balance. Let's hope that research like this eventually trickles down to the consumer level, if for no other reason than to make humanoid soccer and humanoid kung-fu competitions a little more interesting.

[ Humanoid Balance Research ]

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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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