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It's National Robotics Week! Do You Know Where Your Robot Is?

This week the US celebrates the first annual National Robotics Week established by recent House Resolution 1055.

2 min read
It's National Robotics Week! Do You Know Where Your Robot Is?

On March 9th, House Resolution 1055 -- introduced by Pennsylvania representative Mike Doyle -- passed in the House, designating the week of April 10-18 as National Robotics Week. The Congressional Robotics Caucus, with some lobbying from iRobot Corporation and other organizations, introduced the resolution to promote activities that help raise awareness of and interest in the nation's growing robotics industry.

What is the Congressional Robotics Caucus, you may ask? In between healthcare, budgeting, recessing, showing up on the Colbert Report, and all the other activities our congresscritters are busy with, the bipartisan committee works hard to understand the various fields of robotics and tries to support them through their work in Congress. Most of the reps on the committee come from states with a strong academic or business presence in robotics, like California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, or places with agricultural or manufacturing industries that field a lot of robots. They receive regular briefings from experts in the field to understand what we're doing here in the US and how competitive we are on a global scale.

So here we are at National Robotics Week. Perhaps not coincidentally, this also happens to be the week of the FIRST robotics championship event in Atlanta, one of the largest gatherings of current and aspiring roboticists in the world. But if you don't happen to be there, plenty of other cities -- big and small -- around the country are celebrating with mini-competitions, classes, laboratory open houses, block parties, and more. The full calendar of events is here. You can alternatively roll your own.

There are plenty of officially recognized Days, Weeks, and Months designed to raise awareness that mean very little to most people, but I'm actually really excited about NRW. Robotics has a unique way of engaging people and getting them excited about technology that looks straight out of sci-fi, and using it as a vehicle to get kids into STEM fields and adults into learning about and supporting our industry is really effective. Check out the events in your area, encourage your friends to attend, and don't forget your shirt!

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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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