Robot to Human: “Trust Me”

Rescue robots respond to operator stress levels

3 min read
Robot to Human: “Trust Me”
Search and Rescue: Researchers in Europe explored how well rescuers worked with robots in disaster situations. They found the relationships a bit strained.
Photo: Panagotis Papadakis

In a crisis control center, several teams of firefighters in Montelibretti, Italy, used laptops to guide a robotic ground vehicle into a smoke-filled highway tunnel. Inside, overturned motorcycles, errant cars, and spilled pallets impeded the robot’s progress. The rover, equipped with a video camera and autonomous navigation software, was capable of crawling through the wreckage unguided while humans monitored the video footage for accident victims. But most of the time the firefighters took manual control once the robot was a few meters into the tunnel.


Although the search was just an experiment, microphones recorded clear signs of stress during several tests of the scenario: The firefighter driving the rover spoke at a higher pitch, and members of some teams also interfered with one another’s radio transmissions. And while the human drivers may have improved the robot’s performance, they should have been more focused on the search for victims, says artificial-intelligence expert Geert-Jan Kruijff of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, in Saarbrücken, who consulted on the experiment. The drivers were micromanaging their robots.


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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
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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