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Video: Kombusto, MIT's Interactive Dragon Robot

He may look menacing, but Kombusto just wants to be your friend

1 min read
Video: Kombusto, MIT's Interactive Dragon Robot

Don't be scared, he won't bite. Or breathe fire.

Unless, of course, your smartphone has teeth. And a flamethrower.

Kombusto, despite his extremely dragony appearance, doesn't have to exist in beclawed corporeal body. Since he lives in the cloud, even without a fancy $1,000 robot, kids will still be able to have a dragony friend on their (Android) smartphone. The fancy name for this is "blended reality," and it's a powerful tool for education, since it removes the traditional hardware constraints that come with robots.

The other advantage of cloud robotics is that every time Kombusto gets smarter or learns something new, all of the other incarnations of Kombusto in the hands of other kids can directly benefit from the upgrades. And while $1,000 may seem expensive to you (and it is expensive), for an institutional research robot this is dirt cheap. So, uh, can I buy one yet? And does he like to cuddle?

[ MIT Media Lab ]

[ DragonBot on Vimeo ]

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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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