The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Robotics in Europe is historically linked to automation, which is why comparatively few projects focus on autonomous robots. Even fewer are working on humanoids. The three notable exceptions I'm familiar with are Pal Technology's REEM-B (Spain/United Arab Emirates), Justin (Germany/Italy) and Aldebaran's Nao (France).

Now a new European (or rather French) project led by Cap Digital (a coalition of companies, labs and institutions in Paris) aims to build a new humanoid robot. Project Romeo unites more than 12 partners including 5 companies, 7 national laboratories and the Foundation Voir et Entendre (Foundation for Vision and Hearing), with the goal to produce a first robot prototype by 2010 and a second, fully functional robot by 2011. The project's goals are ambitious: The robot should be able to assist the elderly and visually-challenged people at home using gesture and voice recognition. It should be able to manipulate daily objects including doors, dishes and keys, and it should be able to help a person get up in case of a fall.

For now little technical details have been released. Aldebaran, who has taken the technical lead of the project, has revealed that the robot will stand 1.2-1.5 meter (47-59 inches) high and will be a bipedal humanoid. In a recent interview with GetRobo, Rodolphe Gelin, the Head of Cooperative Projects at Aldebaran, also mentioned that the new robot will not use the Zero Moment Point (ZMP) algorithm which keeps most current humanoids stable. Instead, the project will develop a new algorithm that allows for a faster and more dynamic walk. Finally, in addition to gesture and voice recognition the robot will also allow for musical interaction: "We think this is a new and good way for people to interact with a robot because it is still very difficult to communicate with a robot with speech," said Gelin. "Of course, we will work on the dialogue but if you rely solely on dialogue you will always be disappointed." I'm not sure if I am ready to sing a song to a robot, but I'll admit that it's an interesting idea to explore.

For now nothing is known if there are plans for a project Juliette...

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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

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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
DarkGray

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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