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Roboticist Rodney Brooks Talks Robots at Maker Faire

At last week's Maker Faire, roboticist Rodney Brooks discussed the exponential improvements in robotics, the demands of our aging population, and how robots could save manufacturing in the United States.

1 min read

On May 30th and 31st, the 2009 Bay Area Maker Faire brought together scientists, engineers, and hobbyists of every type to one of the biggest DIY events in the world. Robotics, of course, has become a popular hobby among the DIY crowd, with technologies like the Arduino board enabling anyone to build their own little automaton. To discuss the robotics industry on a larger scale, Dr. Rodney Brooks gave a half hour talk to the Makers about changing demographics, Moore's Law, and American manufacturing, and what they all might mean for us robot geeks over the next 50 years.

Brooks is, of course, not only a well-known roboticist from MIT, but also the co-founder of a number of companies, most recently iRobot and Heartland Robotics. Heartland, as we discussed when it was announced, is tackling the problem of manufacturing robots. Brooks's Maker Faire talk does a nice job of outlining the challenge Heartland and other similar companies are facing.


Former CSAIL director and iRobot CTO launches new robotics startup

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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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