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Reminder: One Reason Why Robotics Is Very, Very Important

A brain-controlled robot arm allows Jan Scheuermann to take a bite of chocolate

1 min read
Reminder: One Reason Why Robotics Is Very, Very Important

We've been posting a lot recently about military robotics, and having discussions about whether or not we should be scared of robots with weapons. One of the points that I made was that whatever we think of the military's pronounced interest in robots, it does end up paying for all kinds of things, and here is one amazing example that's funded by DARPA (among others): a 7 DoF brain-controlled robotic arm and hand that has allowed this woman take a bite of chocolate unassisted for the first time in a decade.

Jan Scheuermann has had quadriplegia for the last ten years, which means that she can move her head and neck, but nothing lower down. She's part of a program at  the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine which involved implanting electrodes directly into her brain, and using them to intercept brain signals that Jan can then use to control a robotic arm. The video is nine minutes long, but you won't be sorry to watch the entire thing, I promise.

Did you catch that quote at about five minutes in?

"I used to have to think, 'up, clockwise, down, forward, back...' Now I just look at the target, and Hector [the arm is called Hector] goes there."

That's incredible, isn't it? It's a fairly invasive interface at the moment, and it's not exactly a Luke Skywalker arm quite yet, but such a thing is now near-future technology instead of something that you can only find in a galaxy far, far away.


[ UPMC ] via [ BBC ]

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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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