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Robo-Recycling: Apple’s Liam Robot Is Ready to Take Your iPhone Apart

Apple kicked off today’s event by introducing a free recycling program featuring Liam, its California-developed robot that will take old phones apart

1 min read
Robo-Recycling: Apple’s Liam Robot Is Ready to Take Your iPhone Apart
Image: Apple

Before turning to the expected round of product announcements at today’s Apple event, held at the company’s campus in Cupertino, Calif., Apple introduced a technical development that won’t be a product anytime soon: Liam, the recycling robot.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, said that though Apple’s track record of reusing iPhones that are exchanged for upgrades is good, the company recognized that eventually, these things can’t be reused. Therefore, she indicated, Apple decided to up its recycling game. The company’s engineers in Silicon Valley developed a recycling robot, named Liam, that recognizes all the key parts on an iPhone, takes the handset apart, and pulls out the most valuable materials, including cobalt, lithium, gold, copper, silver, platinum, and tungsten.

With a team of Liams in place, ready to mine phones for precious metals, Jackson announced a free recycling program for iPhones. Customers can drop the phones at Apple stores, or print a prepaid mailing label at home. She urged customers to recycle devices in a way that is “safe for data and safe for the planet,” and will keep a little Liam and his friends busy.

Later in the event, Siri was asked “How do you feel about recycling?” She wisecracked, “I love the Apple renew program, but Liam really tears me apart.”

Check out Liam in this video from Apple:

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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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