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Robocopters Unite!

Robotic helicopters divide and conquer to tackle tough tasks together

2 min read

The meter-long helicopters lined up under the fluorescent lab lights at the Berlin Technical University might look like overgrown toys, but they’ve got a little more under the hood. These are flying robots. They take off, land, and scout terrain autonomously and are being wired to deploy ad hoc communications sensor networks. And unlike any other robocopters, they can work together.

Researchers expect they’ll be used to distribute sensors that would help coordinate firefighting efforts or search flood zones, to track or find people and vehicles, or to shoot movies and cover sports events. Hoisting communications gear, they could one day help channel radio, Wi-Fi, or mobile phone traffic where infrastructure has been wiped out by an earthquake or other natural disaster.

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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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