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This Robot Toots Its Own Flute

Atsuo Takanishi's quest to build a robotic orchestra started with a robotic flutist. Someday this robo-musician might jam with a human jazz band

3 min read

16 July 2008— Robot researcher Atsuo Takanishi, a professor of engineering at Waseda University, in Tokyo, is driven by a vision that would probably appall many musicians. Takanishi wants to create a humanoid robot orchestra. So far he and his group of researchers have developed a pretty good flute-playing robot and have begun work on a saxophone player. Though he has spent many years perfecting the flutist, Takanishi expects things will move much faster now, because he tackled one of the hardest instruments to play first.

”Anyone can play some notes the first time he tries a reed instrument like the saxophone. But getting even a sound out of the flute is very difficult,” says Takanishi.

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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
DarkGray

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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