The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Robotic Fish, Coming to a Pool Near You

Many robotics researchers are turning to fish for design inspiration.

1 min read

Nature is full of great examples of highly efficient mechanical systems, and roboticists are keen to capitalize on those designs. When it comes to underwater vehicles, fish are a popular animal to emulate.

MIT's RoboTuna, developed in the early 90s, has spawned (ha!) two spinoff robotic fish projects. One we've talked about before: GhostSwimmer. This project, led by Boston Engineering, has evolved. The previous demonstration videos showed the robot propelled by a tail propeller but directed by the movement of the "fin"; the new version is actually propelled by the tail fin motion. Check it out here:


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Next up is a newer set of fish from MIT. The two different types of fish mimic two different types of swimming mecahnics in fish like trout versus fish like sharks. MIT's news release says "the new robotic fish, each less than a foot long, are powered by a single motor and are made of fewer than 10 individual components."



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Soon I'm sure we'll have even more roboticists swimming with the fishes!


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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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