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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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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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