Robo-girls Redux: Sacramento Semifinals

It's an up-and-down ride for the only all-girl team to make the semifinal rounds

4 min read

The Activities and Recreation Center on the UC Davis campus is filled with the sounds of electric motors, ripping carpet, clanging metal, and screaming fans. It's 31 March 2007 at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics' Sacramento/Davis regional competition [Click here to read the second story in this series.], and a lone all-girl team is in the semifinal alliance, hoping to prove they're among the best of 39 teams. Says co-captain Alexis Morgester, a.k.a. Hyperdrive: "We don't get intimidated by the boys-we're three years ahead of them mentally."

The Fembots of St. Francis High School, in Sacramento, had pinned their hopes on Charlie the Robot, and nothing was going to faze them. When inspectors declared the earrings they had made from robot parts unsafe, the Fembots took them off. "No more earrings in the pits," proclaimed team safety captain Lisa Marie "WireS" Williams. "We're tired of being runner-up for the safety award," she said. They gave the baubles to passing robo-girls from other teams and to a middle schooler who might someday join the Fembots. (Fembots spend a lot of time recruiting: during the regional competition, members regularly led invited groups of middle schoolers on tours of the pits and playing field.)

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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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