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Willow Garage PR2 robot navigates through office, plugs itself into electrical outlet

This mobile robot finds the wall socket to get its own juice

1 min read

Willow Garage, a California startup working on an open-source personal robot, celebrated another milestone last week. Its PR2 mobile robot successfully navigated through the company's cramped office, opening doors and entering rooms and plugging its power cord into nine wall outlets -- using its own nimble arm and hand!

See the video below that shows the various situations the robot faced, including avoiding human officemates who got on its way. The PR2 looks like one persistent robot -- when it failed to pick up its plug, it repositioned itself and tried again until it was able to complete the task. But it's also clever: when it reached a locked door, it didn't try to stubbornly open it over and over -- it figured it had to ignore that room and move on.

Willow Garage designed the PR2 as a platform to help roboticists conduct research and develop applications in mobile manipulation in real human environments. At some point the company plans to provide PR2 units to other organizations, which will have to make their PR2-based work available under an open source license.

Visit their wiki page to learn more about their open source Robot Operating System and computer vision package OpenCV.

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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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