The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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meal assistive robot

Eating is a primary need, and many of us take it for granted. But what if the daily ritual of holding a fork, picking up food, and putting it in your mouth were impossible?

Last week, I came across a robot that detects the food on your plate and feeds you your desired dish. Here is a video:

This meal assistance system was developed by Isao Wakabayashi, an undergrad at Chukyo University, Japan. He used the Rascal robot set from Robix, and wrote his own image processing software to automatically recognize meal items. It labels all the pieces on your plate, so that you can use voice command to choose your next bite. “Pudding, please!”

Researchers are developing meal assistance robots like this for those unable to feed themselves, for example due to accident or illness. In fact, the Japanese company Secom has been selling their MySpoon robot for at least five years. Wakabayashi’s work could have the ability to help this assistive technology become more automatic, user-friendly, and affordable.

In a world where robots are being used for work, play, and even war, hopefully these assistive robots can help us enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures: eating.

The Conversation (0)

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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