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Humanoid Robot Octavia Helps Humans Fight Fires

The U.S. Navy enlists Octavia as part of a human robot cooperative firefighting team

1 min read
Humanoid Robot Octavia Helps Humans Fight Fires

Firefighting robots have been a hot topic recently, and the U.S. Navy seems particularly interested in getting shipboard robots to be able to help humans deal with flaming emergencies. They’ve already commissioned their own custom humanoid, but until that's ready to go, they’re teaching Octavia how to team up with humans to find (and extinguish) real fires.

The focus of this project is less about the actual fire extinguishing, and more about how Octavia interacts with a human partner to get to that point. She’s already a pro with a fancy Macaw Compressed Air Foam anti-fire cannon, but she has to learn how to track a person, identify them, understand what they say, understand any gestures they make, recognize a fire when she sees one, and then accurately and efficiently put it out. Not a simple process, to be sure, but she seems to have it down, and notice in this video how her facial expressions communicate what she's thinking to her human partner:

All of this, of course, assumes that the human part of the human-robot team is acting in a calm and logical manner, as opposed to running around screaming “FIRE!” We’re sort of wondering what Octavia would do if her human partner was on fire, and our suspicion is that we’re getting a first-person view of that exact situation in the last 15 seconds of the above video.

"Fighting Fires with Human Robot Teams," by E. Martinson, W. Lawson, S. Blisard, A. Harrison, and G. Trafton from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, was presented today at the 2012 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vilamoura, Portugal.

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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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