We're pretty familiar with autonomous cars around here, and we've even been treated to a ride in one of Stanford's robots at their automotive innovation lab, which they launched in partnership with Volkswagen. You might also remember Shelley, their autonomous Audi TTS, which autonomously raced to the top of Pikes Peak last year. Volkswagen's thinking behind all of this high performance autonomous car stuff is that at some point, they'll be able to program your car to be a far, far better driver than you could ever be, and it'll have the ability to pull some crazy maneuvers to save you from potential accidents.

Google, who's just down the road from Stanford, seems to understand this, and they've turned their autonomous cars up to "aggressive" in this driving demo that they gave to some lucky sods in a parking lot at the TED conference in Long Beach. It's pretty impressive:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/v/oMdcWHnbhsw?fs=1&hl=en_US expand=1]

This might seem dangerous, but arguably, this demo is likely safer than a human driving around the parking area at normal speeds, if we assume that the car's sensors are all switched on and it's not just playing back a preset path. The fact is that a car equipped with radar and LIDAR and such can take in much more information, process it much more quickly and reliably, make a correct decision about a complex situation, and then implement that decision far better than a human can. This is especially true if we consider the type of research that is being done with Shelley to teach cars how to make extreme maneuvers, safely.

So why aren't we all driving autonomous cars already? It's not a technical reason; there are several cars on the road right now with lane sensing, blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control, which could be combined to allow for autonomous highway driving. Largely, the reasons seem to be legal: there's no real framework or precedent for yielding control of a vehicle to an autonomous system, and nobody knows exactly who to blame or sue if something goes wrong. And furthermore, the first time something does go wrong, it's going to be like a baseball bat to the face of the entire robotics industry.

Anyway, enough of the depressing stuff, here's an outside view of Google's robot car squealing around that parking lot:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/v/YaGJ6nH36uI?fs=1&hl=en_US expand=1]

For what it's worth, "aggressive" is apparently one of four different driving personalities that you have the option of choosing from every time to start up one of their robot cars. Fun!

[ Searchengineland ] via [ Engadget ]

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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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