James and Rosie, a lovely robotic couple at the Technical University of Munich, are well known for their delicious pancake and sausage breakfast rituals. Now their skills have expanded to include both sandwiches and popcorn. 

I hope you caught that little joke at 0:47 :)

Remember, none of these steps are pre-programmed. The robots are able to understand what steps go into something like making popcorn, and break those steps down into actions. Like, TUM's PR2 wasn't explicitly instructed to go turn the stove on and off: It just knew that popcorn requires using the stove, and that the stove needed to be turned on, so it did all the localization and navigation and manipulation of the stove controls all by itself.

The reason that this research is so important is that we don't want to have to be endlessly providing robots with instructions for every last thing that they're supposed to be doing. Giving robots the ability to take a complex task and autonomously infer all the intermediate tasks that it can then execute one at a time means that you'll be able to say, "Make me a sandwich" or "Do my laundry" or "Clean the house" or "You know what, go get everything done while I take a nap" and the robot will just go and do it, no questions asked.

If you're into this stuff as much as we are, you'll want to watch the 15 minute mostly real-time video (with echoey and accented narration), below.


The Conversation (0)

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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