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What would the story of racehorse legend Seabiscuit be without jockey Red Pollard? It might be something like that of any future champion racing camel. The centuries-old sport of camel racing has an unfortunate history of kidnapping and half-starving young boys to act as jockeys. Addressing that issue, the government of Qatar will turn the reins over to robots by 2007. Officials there contracted with K-Team SA, a specialty robot firm, based in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, to design and build remote-controlled, Global Positioning System-equipped robotic riders. In training sessions, such as this one on 25 April, the prototype robot spurred its mount to speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour. The 27-kilogram robot doesn't just look and feel like a real jockey. It smells like one, too. To get the camels to accept a mechanical rider, handlers sprayed the robot with a traditional perfume used by camel trainers. K-Team plans to have 20 robo-jockeys ready for the start of the racing season in October.

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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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