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Smithsonian Snaps Up Nine Historic Robots from Sandia National Labs

The Smithsonian’s permanent collection now includes tiny robots, robots that jump, and an autonomous robot from 1985, all courtesy Sandia Labs

1 min read
Smithsonian Snaps Up Nine Historic Robots from Sandia National Labs

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While thinking about robotics as a still-emerging field, as we do, we don’t often stop to consider how even the relatively recent past has a significant historical relevance. Fortunately, this is the job of the Smithsonian Institution, and they seem to be very proactive about it, having just acquired nine robots from Sandia National Labs for their permanent collection.

The robots in the above picture include MARV (Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicle), a design from 1996 that used mostly commercial parts and measured only about one inch square [about 6.5 square centimeters]. MARV was one of the first robots to really tackle miniaturization head on, and it inspired all kinds of tiny little descendants, including Sandia’s own dime-sized tank.

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Also heading to the Smithsonian are SIR, a robot that could navigate through a building autonomously in 1985 (on the left), Dixie, a reconnaissance robot from 1987 (at the back), and some of those crazy hopping robots.

It’s fun to think about what robots that we have around us right now are likely to find a place in the Smithsonian’s collection within a decade or two... After five seconds of thought (which means I’m missing all kinds of slightly less obviously but equally worthy choices), I’d have to put my money on a Roomba, PR2, Keepon, a Predator, and Wall-E. What do you think?

Via [ Sandia ]

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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
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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
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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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