PR2 Learns How To Be a Robobutler Without Destroying Things

Untrained humans have trouble moving open drinks around on trays, but new programming makes PR2 a pro

1 min read
PR2 Learns How To Be a Robobutler Without Destroying Things

While IEEE Spectrum has not yet seen fit to hire me my own butler (like most bloggers tend to expect), as far as I can tell (and let me just clarify that I have absolutely no idea about this whatsoever) being a butler requires mastery of three things: looking good in a tux, having a butler-y attitude, and not spilling things on trays. PR2 might be able to cover those first two, but we now have video proof that it's nailed the third one: PR2 is officially a traymaster.

The deal with moving things around on trays, if you've ever tried it, is that your goal should be to minimize the lateral force on whatever is on the tray, because lateral forces make things fly off and crash to the ground and then your mom yells at you and you don't get to play butler anymore. Sigh. This involves tilting the tray in just the right way, and Tobias Kunz, a PhD student from Georgia Tech, has taught PR2 how do pull it off during his internship at Willow Garage:

And somebody from Willow had better comment and let us know what's going on at the very end there: it looks like some sort of mechanical bull surfing thing with only a questionable relationship to robotics, but maybe they're going to stick a PR2 on there at some point? I'll tell you what: I'd pay money to see that. Good money.

Via [ Willow Garage ]

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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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