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Humanoid Robot Nao Learns to Drive Its Own Car

Nao is the proud owner of a fancy new electric BMW Z4

1 min read
Humanoid Robot Nao Learns to Drive Its Own Car
This little robot is the proud owner of a fancy new electric BMW Z4.
Photo: RobotsLab

Robots have proven to be not that great at driving cars. Robot cars are just fine at driving themselves, but that's much different than putting a robot (humanoid or otherwise) behind the wheel of a vehicle designed for humans.

The very fancy and expensive robots at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials had a tough time trying to make it work, but for Aldebaran's humanoid Nao, it's a cinch, with his brand new little kid (or little robot) sized electric BMW Z4 from RobotsLab, a seller of educational robots based in San Francisco, Calif.

Nao is driving the car completely autonomously. Or, it might be more accurate to say that the car is sort of driving itself, relying on a laser rangefinder mounted underneath to avoid obstacles and send steering commands to the robot.

However, the point of this setup is that it's a platform that you can modify to research (or teach) whatever you want, from SLAM algorithms to vision-based obstacle detection and avoidance. The guts of the BMW are based around an Arduino, which makes it very easy to work with, and as with all of the rest of the RobotsLab stuff, it includes a standards-aligned curriculum that integrates easily into existing STEM programs.

RobotsLab is now the exclusive North American reseller for NAO, and you can get a NAO V5 Evolution from them for US $7,990. Adding on the car will run you an extra $2,000, but using the code "TechCrunchie2014" knocks $2,000 off the total price, making the car free. Not a bad deal, I'd say.

[ RobotsLab ]

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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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