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This Is What PR2s Do for Fun

Georgia Tech's 'PR2 Playpen' will keep your PR2 busy, productive, and amused for hours

1 min read

People have programmed PR2s to do all sorts of fun things, but most of these things are human-y fun, not robot fun. Georgia Tech has built what they're calling a "PR2 Playpen," which is designed to keep their PR2 busy (and entertained?) while teaching it valuable life skills at the same time.

Robots tend to have difficulty when it comes to interacting with unfamiliar objects. We've seen some cleverways to at least partially circumvent this, but to perform best, robots need to be taught how to pick things up and then practice with different algorithms to find what works. This is rather time consuming, and the PR2 Playpen is designed to help automate the task. A conveyor belt drops random objects one at a time into a workspace in front of a PR2, which studies them and attempts to pick them up. The robot can autonomously evaluate different controllers and strategies, while collecting data to improve its algorithms at the same time.

The other benefit to this system is that the robot can keep itself busy and productive without any human supervision. There's a limited amount of time that research labs can keep their PR2s hard at work, and I bet that even the busiest lab would have trouble actively using their robots more than 50 percent of the time, if that. With the PR2 Playpen, the robot can spend all night every night teaching itself to get better at grasping things, and thanks to ROS, all robots everywhere will be able to benefit from what it learns.

[ Georgia Tech Healthcare Robotics Lab ]

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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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