Stanford Robots Load a Hovering Drone, Solve a Marble Maze, and More

Students in Stanford’s experimental robotics class teach industrial robots new tricks

1 min read
Students in Stanford's Experimental Robotics class gather around professor Oussama Khatib
Photo: Tekla Perry

Robots that sketch, play ping pong, solve mazes, and attempt to juggle strutted their stuff at the annual demo day for Stanford’s Experimental Robotics class. Each year, Professor Oussama Khatib’s students aim to teach a selection of industrial robots some new skills. The toughest project: teaching a Kuka robot to juggle. (It struggled, with balls getting stuck or flying wild… but as anyone who has tried to juggle objects can tell you, the learning curve is very steep.) The other projects included two robots that had been taught to draw (a Sawyer and a Puma), a Ping Pong–playing robot (the Kuka again) that scored a few points against its human opponents, a cowboy hat–wearing Sawyer robot that shot at a moving target, a Puma 500 robot that manipulated a maze to send a ball along the correct path, and a drone-loading Sawyer robot that tracked a less-than-stable hovering drone. Check them all out in the video below.

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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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