The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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"Shady" Robot Climbs Windows, Blocks Sunlight

Installing window drapes too costly? Try a robot instead.

1 min read

When you're an MIT researcher and your laboratory's windows let in too much sunlight, obviously the only thing to do is to build a robot to solve your problem. Whence Shady, a window-climbing robot that unfurls a shade to block sunlight and glare.

If you've ever visited MIT's Computer Science and Artificial intelligence Lab, you'll know the Frank Gehry-designed Stata Center has some seriously strange architectural features. Among these are huge floor-to-ceiling windows installed on an incline and shiny metal roofing. Researchers in Daniela Rus's laboratory became annoyed at the sunlight reflecting off the roof and creating glare on their computer monitors throughout the afternoon. When they discovered that blinds for the custom windows were prohibitively expensive, they turned to what they knew best: robots.


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Shady is a relatively simple robot that communicates with an operator computer via Bluetooth. Right now, there's not much that's autonomous about Shady, so the operator clicks on a graphic representation of the windows and Shady heads over to it. It uses grippers to grip the framing between windows and swings itself up and over to where it needs to be. Once it's reached its destination, it unfurls a piece of reflective material that shades the operator from direct sunlight or bad glare off the roof.

Shady itself is pretty whimsical, but the locomotion via rotating gripper is really interesting. The developers pointed out that this "truss-climbing" method of getting around is useful on things like scaffolding, or power line towers which need to be inspected and painted. I love what can come out of solving a simple problem.

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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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