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ParkourBot Can Do Parkour

Carnegie Mellon has been working on a robot that can (almost) bounce straight up walls

1 min read

We've seen all kinds of robotsthatareabletomaketheirwayupwalls, but few if any of them have been what you'd call dynamic. That is, those robots clamp themselves to something, move, clamp, and them move again. A dynamic robot is more like a gymnast, relying on motion and inertia to actively propel itself up using walls and other surfaces to its advantage.

ParkourBot, designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern University, takes all the lessons they've learned from dynamic walking robots and brings it to the vertical dimension. Well, near vertical. At this point, the robot is being tested on an angled air table to simplify the system, and they're also cheating a little bit (their words!) by relying on a gyroscope to keep the robot from spinning around like a pinwheel.

So okay, it may not exactly be climbing buildings, but that's definitely the goal. The next step is to add variations and gaps in the walls to teach ParkourBot to adapt on the fly, and once it gets that figured out, removing the gyro will open up some exciting possibilities for actual jumping and leaping and climbing. ParkourBot, watch and learn.

The researchers -- Amir Degani, Siyuan Feng, H. Benjamin Brown, Kevin M. Lynch, Howie Choset and Matthew T. Mason -- describe the project in a paper, "The ParkourBot: A Dynamic Bow Leg Climbing Robot," presented today at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Shanghai.

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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
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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
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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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