The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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As if equipping a household robot with a LASER CANNON wasn't scary enough, Neato's autonomous vacuum now comes in evil, evil black. Meet the Signature Series, which brings you 50 percent more power for sucking up dust thanks to "a new aerodynamic design," and as far as we can tell, not much else.

Besides the new color (or shade, if we're going to get technical), the Signature Series Neatos are somehow 50 percent better at vacuuming dust with the aforementioned new aerodynamic design. We're not sure what exactly it means, but yeah, that's what it does. Otherwise, the hardware and software seem largely unchanged, but this is less of a disappointment than it could be, since the price is largely unchanged as well: you'll pay $400 for the base Signature (which is the same as the XV-11 costs), and for $449, you'll get the Signature Pro, which includes an extra brush and filter.

If this sort of upgrade path sounds familiar, it's because iRobot kind of does the same thing. In fact, kind of really the same thing: remember when iRobot came out with the AeroVac bin? Having said that, we certainly recognize that there are realities that have to be considered when you've got a product that needs to survive commercially—rapid iteration is just not feasible, and it takes a lot of work (and a lot of time) to bring major new features to market successfully.

We're still huge fans of the tech that Neato embodies: a vacuum with integrated, sophisticated, yet very cost-effective localization. LASERS. It seems like there's a lot more that could be done here, and Neato's been good about adding new features through free software updates. If you've got an XV-11 and haven't updated it recently, the latest version (3.0) includes a fancy new behavior to clean in corners better. Download it here.

[ Neato Robotics ] via [ Business Wire ]

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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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