Dyson has been working on a robot vacuum, for, like, ever, man. Seriously. This thing has been a project for a solid decade, perhaps longer. We haven't heard a peep on the subject for years, but apparently, Dyson released a few new normal vacuum models recently and dropped some hints about why the heck it's taking them so long to come out with a robot.

Back at the dawn of time (also known as 2004), Dyson had a fancy robot vacuum called the DC06 that they were all set to start selling commercially. The DC06 is in the pic at the top of this article, and it was supposedly fantastic, doing all of its own obstacle avoidance and localization while incorporating a superbly powerful vacuum. It weighed a ton, though, and would have cost $6,000 (thanks to "three onboard computers, 2,000 electronic components, 27 separate circuit boards and 70 sensory devices"), so Dyson thought better of the whole thing and pulled the plug:

Earlier this year, Pete Pachal (who I used to work for before he moved over to Mashable, hi Pete!) asked Dyson's industrial design director, Alex Knox, where the robot vacuum was:

In our experience, it's very easy to say that robot vacuums aren't good enough, and point out ways in which they could be better. The hard part is actually solving these problems. iRobot's position, for example, is that vacuum robots are a maintenance tool, and can't take over for a human wielding (say) a regular Dyson upright vacuum. So, if Dyson is really trying to make a robot vacuum that's capable of completely replacing a human with a vacuum, they've got their work cut out of them.

Anyway, here's the latest update, from Sir James Dyson himself:

“We’ve been developing robotic vacuum cleaners for years, a long time, and we will come out with one that works. At the moment they have very poor pickup and they mostly wonder around aimlessly with lousy suction. If you’ve got powerful suction you’re using up a lot of battery, therefore you’ve got to do the floor methodically without doubling up anywhere and without bouncing around. It is a really serious and difficult problem to solve but I’m not interested in producing a gimmick."

Toby Saville, a fellow engineer in the Dyson Product Performance Team, elaborates:

“Ever since I can remember, robot vacuum cleaners have been of interest to Dyson and I’ve been here 11 years. It is a very key project for James and I think he does believe that for a vacuum cleaner, robotics can be a very important element. Over that time, there has been a lot of evolution in robotics technology as well so perhaps we have got close to market a few times and thought ‘oh look, there’s a new development we think is meaningful and useful’ and then it goes back to the drawing board for another three year cycle. We absolutely won’t launch the product until it’s at a capable level that people are going to be happy with and impressed with. I can’t put a timeframe on it, right now it’s really hard to say but the market is increasing.”

The only risk with this sort of approach is that you'll end up spending something like 11 years going through three year cycles over and over without ever reaching some sort of happy (or at least satisfactory) medium between price and performance and perfection. I'm sure that whenever Dyson is satisfied with the end product, it'll be spectacular, but I really hope I'm still alive to experience it for myself.

[ Dyson ] via [ Trusted Reviews ] via [ @RobotDiva ]

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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
DarkGray

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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