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Willow Garage Details Its Robotics Navigation Software

Robotics start-up Willow Garage has released open-source navigation software that robot makers can use in their own creations

1 min read
Willow Garage Details Its Robotics Navigation Software

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In a recent video, Willow Garage researcher Eitan Marder-Eppstein describes the open-source navigation stack they've released as version 1.0. The code, available at, was designed to be flexible and cross-platform, he says, and could be used in anything from a small iRobot Create-based bot to a large multi-sensor robot like Willow's own PR2 (which Spectrum has covered in detail here and here).

The stack lets users configure different sensors, change the footprint of the robot, integrate SLAM systems, and use a 2D or 3D view of the world. Says Marder-Eppstein:

"In particular the three-dimensional view of the world enables the robot to avoid obstacles like tables, chairs, and people's feet."

And a guy trying to hit it with a two-by-four.

"This is a significant improvement over navigation stacks that view the world as purely planar," he says.

I like Willow because their work is practical and promising. And because they have a sense of humor. They really put their bodies on the line.

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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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