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No Tree Is Safe From This Chainsaw-Wielding Robot

This robot is an excellent reason why you should never, ever pretend to be a tree

2 min read
No Tree Is Safe From This Chainsaw-Wielding Robot

Of all the things you should not give robots—lasersknives, swords—one of the worst is possibly chainsaws. I mean, chainsaws are noisy in a terrifying sort of way and awfully messy. They're especially dangerous if you're a tree, in that if you're a tree, there is a significantly increased likelihood that this pruning robot will climb up you and violently lop off as many of your limbs as it can reach.

The reason why a pruning robot is actually a really good and important idea is that climbing trees and then holding on with one hand (or no hands) while sawing big heavy bits of them off is rather incredibly dangerous, with injury rates about 10 times that of working in a factory. This teleoperated robot means that you can stand very, very far away while the pruning gets done, and the 'bot seems to do quite a good job, able to climb up and down trees with no trouble while cutting branches off in a spiral motion.

At 13 kilograms, the robot can drive straight up trees between 6 and 25 centimeters (2.3-9.8 in) in diameter at 0.25 m/s, while tackling branches with a diameter of less than 5 cm. It can automatically adapt to a variety of tree morphologies (that's a thing, right?), and is relatively energy efficient (for whatever that's worth) since it can support itself passively on the tree by using its own weight to securely grip the trunk.

Most of the testing of this robot has so far been in an "experimental forest," where the trees seem to be all about as straight and perfect as a sprouting telephone pole. Continuing research will involve making the robot a bit more robust towards different sorts of trees and foliage, and teaching it the difference between trees that it should try to prune and tall humans that it shouldn't. 

"A Pruning Robot With a Power-Saving Chainsaw Drive," by Yasuhiko Ishigure, Katsuyuki Hirai, and Haruhisa Kawasaki from Marutomi Seiko Co. and the University of Gifu, in Japan, was presented at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Mechatronics and Automation.

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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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