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FIRST Robotics Competition Kicks Off Worldwide

Robotics game Breakaway unveiled to audience of high schoolers

5 min read

19 January 2010—Look out, sports fans. Here come the robots! On January 9, at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, in Brooklyn, 37 area high school teams joined hundreds of other teams via satellite feed to find out what this year's FIRST robotics challenge would be. Courtesy of NASA, the kickoff event was piped in live to 57 locations around the world from Manchester, N.H., where FIRST is based.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a high school robotics competition founded 18 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen, who wanted to use the sports and entertainment model to get kids excited about science and technology. His idea was "to steal from the playbook of sports…to change the perception of a whole generation of kids." Each year, a new design challenge tests budding engineers' creativity, skills, and teamwork.

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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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