Sand Trap

DARPA's 320-kilometer robotic race across the Mojave Desert yields no winners, but plenty of new ideas

16 min read

On A Gorgeous Spring Morning in the southwestern U.S. desert, I find arrayed before me the motleyest assortment of vehicles assembled in one place since the filming of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior . I'm at the California Speedway, in Fontana, which has certainly seen its share of automotive oddities. But this is something else again.

Here, on a vast expanse of shimmering blacktop and concrete just south of the San Bernardino Mountains, an Armadaof four-wheelers, six-wheelers, and even one two-wheeler has gathered. There's a big red 18-year-old Humvee stuffed with US $3 million worth of computers, lasers, cameras, and other sensor systems. There's a tracked crawler that looks like a huge beetle, with a red dome on top and "wings" that splay to right it when it flips. There's a hulking 2.7-meter-tall electric-green military supply truck, and in its shadow what appears to be--yes, it is--an orange golf cart. And then there's a collection of customized pickup trucks and SUVs, less outrageous at first glance, but with cab and hood ornamentation like nothing ever seen on any used-car lot.

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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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