You look like you have a bunch of extra cash lying around. Like, maybe, about $80,000? As of this week, here are some robots that you can blow all of that on at once.

Unless you were a very lucky developer or an academic, odds are you haven't been able to get your hands on a NAO, at least partially because $16,000 is a lot of money for a little humanoid, no matter how cute and capable.

Aldebaran Robotics is trying to change that and it has just announced that a NAO will now cost $8,000. Such an abrupt and significant price drop makes us idly wonder whether we might be seeing something new from Aldebaran in the near future, and while that's keeping us busy, here's NAO jumping out of an airplane:

[ RobotsLab ]



Neato Robotics has announced a new vacuum, the BotVac. In a very iRobot move, it looks a little different than the older XV series of vacuums, but still includes the laser SLAM nav system:

As far as I can make out, the BotVac is an XV-11 with a Roomba-style edge brush (I think I'm allowed to say "Roomba style" since Neato is squarely taking aim at iRobot). The BotVac also has a 50 percent larger dirt bin and a redesigned skin. The navigation technology that's hyped in the vids is fundamentally the same as the original XV-11, so I can't really understand why they're suddenly making such a big deal out of it. Starting at $480, BotVac is certainly not cheaper than the XV-11 (or the other XV-series vacuuming robots), and in another very iRobot move, you can pay a lot more money (up to $600) for upgraded models with the same mechanics but including various filters and brushes.

[ Neato BotVac ]



At this point, we've still got $70k left to spend on something, and why not ditch it all in one place? iRobot's Ava 500 remote presence platform is now shipping in North America and Europe through Cisco resellers, for just $69,500. Or, if you're feeling cheap, you can lease one for $2,500 a month.

What makes the Ava 500 different from other telepresence platforms is that it can make maps and navigate around buildings by itself without running over people.

Ava 500 delivers high-definition, industry-standard video and unprecedented ease of use. The remote user schedules and controls Ava 500 using an iPad®, selecting the destination by tapping a location on a map or by choosing a location or employee name. At the time of the meeting, the robot autonomously navigates its way to the desired location and initiates the call using a Cisco TelePresence EX60. Because Ava 500 is autonomous and maps its own environment, there is no need to drive the robot or to understand the location’s layout. Ava 500 intelligently and safely self-navigates busy, real-world enterprise environments without bumping into people or objects. When desired, manual operations to rotate the robot, move the telepresence system up-and-down, and tilt the camera are also provided for more refined control of the robot. This allows the user to move about the room, participate in side discussions, and to be at either a standing or sitting height. At the end of the meeting, the Ava 500 simply disconnects and automatically returns to its charging station.

We've seen this navigation capability in action, and it's very impressive, even in the crowded exhibition halls where we generally get our demos. Is the robot (plus the Cisco telepresence backend) worth the premium? I suppose it depends on how much you like driving robots around offices, or how much trouble you're likely to get in trying to do that successfully.

[ iRobot Ava 500 ]

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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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