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Japan Wants 2020 Robot Olympics Alongside Human Olympics

The world needs a well funded, high profile, international robotics competition. Can Japan make it happen?

2 min read
Japan Wants 2020 Robot Olympics Alongside Human Olympics
A humanoid participates in a soccer match at RoboCup, one of many international robotics competitions.
Photo: Eneas De Troya

"In 2020 I would like to gather all of the world's robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week.

It's about time!

Photo: Chatham House/Flickr
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

There have been, and are, all kinds of competitive robotics events that take place all over the world. We were huge fans of RoboGames, FIRST, and RoboCup (which is taking place right now in Brazil). And there's Robo-OneRoboCup@Home, Sparkfun's Autonomous Vehicle Competition, along with any number of research-based competitions that take place at ICRA and IROS. All of these events are fantastic, but a flagship event like a worldwide robot olympics would be something special.

Competition spurs innovation. You don't have to look any farther than the DARPA Robotics Challenge (or the earlier DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous vehicles) to see how much of an impact these kinds of events can have on the speed and focus of technological advancement. We certainly don't mean to suggest that smaller competitions (namely, those without an Olympic-scale backing) aren't relevant or important, because they absolutely absolutely absolutely are. But there are things that can only be accomplished when you have a lot of resources to throw around, as DARPA has demonstrated.

We've already heard that Japan may continue with the DARPA Robotics Challenge in some form, even after its official conclusion next year. In 2016, Switzerland will host a competition for augmented humans called Cybathalon. Big robotics events are happening, in a somewhat fragmented fashion, and the extreme depth and variety of the robotics field itself is at least partially to blame for that. At the same time, however, getting researchers and hobbyists who are at the top of their varied specialties all together in the same place for a few weeks and setting them against each other in events that are almost (but not quite) impossible could potentially be a huge driver for progress.

There aren't any details about what Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has in mind, and him saying "I would like to" in no way means that this is a thing that is happening for real. So, don't get your hopes up (like we already have). If the DRC Finals go well, though, it would help show what's possible through a well-funded competitive event, especially from the perspective of Japan: robotics competitions like the DRC, but also including all the rest, aren't just about figuring out what robot is faster or stronger or more skilled, as with the human Olympics. It's about developing robots that are all of those things, and then recognizing that those advances can all be adapted to make our lives better.

Via [ AFP ]

RoboCup photo via Eneas De Troya/Flickr.

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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
DarkGray

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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