Boston Dynamics has posted some updated videos of BigDog and PETMAN. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much new going on… BigDog still carries a bunch of stuff, climbs up muddy hills, doesn’t fall down on ice, looks like two guys running around under a tarp, and sounds like a swarm of killer bees. The one new sequence that I noticed shows BigDog running (the definition of running being an airborne gait phase) at 5 mph. At the end of the video, when the hydraulics are run externally and the engine is off, BigDog sounds a lot more reasonable. Unfortunately, it’s hard to beat the power density and instant rechargeability of petroleum-based fuels, so we might be stuck with the bees for a while longer.

PETMAN is moving a bit more briskly as well, reaching a walking speed of 4.4 mph. Although it’s dynamically balancing itself, it still looks to me like it’s perpetually on the verge of falling over, but I guess arguably that’s what dynamic balancing is all about. Remember that eventually Petman is supposed to be able to crawl, sweat, and do ‘calisthenics’ to test protective clothing. And when I say eventually, I mean by 2011, but that seems a little bit optimistic at this point. Artificial fingers crossed!

[ Boston Dynamics ]

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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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