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Watch JPL's RoboSimian Do Pull-Ups

JPL and other teams are working hard on their DARPA challenge robots

1 min read
Watch JPL's RoboSimian Do Pull-Ups

YES! IT'S STARTING! The DARPA Robotics Challenge is mere months (four months) away, and we're now beginning to get some early looks at progress on those spectacular Track A robots. This is RoboSimian, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, starting to experiment with hands developed at Stanford.

RoboSimian isn't finished yet, but that's part of what's exciting here. We've been looking forward to seeing videos of the Track A teams developing and testing their hardware prior to the Challenge in December. JPL is particularly interesting because they've decided not to build a humanoid, like most of the rest of the Track A teams. Instead, RoboSimian is more of, well, a simian, a term used most often to refer to apes, although technically we humans are simians too.

In particular, RoboSimian will use its four general purpose limbs and hands, capable of both mobility and manipulation, to achieve passively stable stances; create multi-point anchored connections to supports such as ladders, railings, and stair treads; and brace itself during forceful manipulation operations.

It looks like RoboSimian is going to have no trouble with ladder climbing or manipulation, and if it ends up walking around on four legs instead of two, that could significantly simplify some of the walking challenges. So the question is, what disadvantages does a form like this have over a more traditional humanoid robot, if any? We may have to wait until the end of the year to find out, but in the mean time, we're very much looking forward to more videos like these from all of the DRC teams.

[ JPL ]

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
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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