We love the concept behind modular robots: they’re simple, cheap, easy to use, and capable of doing anything you want them to do, as long as you’re willing to let them reconfigure. They’re also easy to fix, and in many cases, capable of fixing themselves. So for example, if you’ve got a modular humanoid that you decide to kick in the face, it can put itself back together, as long as it’s got enough modules attached to each other to enable movement. But single modules, left on their own, are more or less helpless.

iMobot is a project from UC Davis that takes all those cool possibilities embodied in modular robotics and adds a couple extra degrees of freedom that gives each individual module significant capabilities as well. The basic central hinged design is familiar from projects like ckBot, but iMobot adds rotating plates at the end of each module, which can turn the module into a single axle of sorts, capable of driving itself around. The modules can also crawl, roll, and "undulate" to get from place to place:

Besides movement, these additional degrees of freedom allow the modules themselves to perform tasks, like operating as little individual camera turrets. And of course, by sticking a bunch of the modules together, you can create much more sophisticated robots with enhanced capabilities:

The creators of these modules, Graham Ryland and Professor Harry Cheng, have taken the promising step of starting up their own company to produce these little guys in bulk and make them available for research institutions and anybody else who wants to mess around with modular robots. Barobo already has a sizable NSF grant to kick things off, and they hope to have a product ready to go by the end of the year. 

[ iMobot ] via [ Physorg ]

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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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