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PR2 Does the Impossible, Folds Towels

PR2 may not be the fastest at folding towels, but the fact that it can do it entirely autonomously is nuts

1 min read
PR2 folding towels
Image: UC Berkeley

We cover a lot of robots around here, and to be fair, not every one of them makes you think “yeah, I could totally use one of those around the house!” Well, I could totally use a PR2 around my house now that it can autonomously fold stuff. Not sure how I’d get it up the stairs, but anyway…

So far, UC Berkeley’s Pieter Abbeel has only taught his PR2 to fold towels and other rectangles, but the important thing is that the PR2 is entirely unfamiliar with the things that it has to fold. Just toss a pile of towels of various sizes on the table, and PR2 will pick up each item, inspect it, and figure out how it should be folded. The folding routine even ends with an adorable little pat ‘n smooth. You have to remember, too, that even though PR2 is quite an impressive robot, the capabilities are mostly in the software:

“The reliability and robustness of our algorithm enables for the first time a robot with general purpose manipulators to reliably and fully-autonomously fold previously unseen towels, demonstrating success on all 50 out of 50 single-towel trials as well as on a pile of 5 towels.”

50/50 on towel folding? Yeah, that would definitely be an upgrade in my house.

[ UC Berkeley Robot Learning Lab ] via [ Willow Garage @ Twitter ]

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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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