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Zero Robotics Competition gives High School Students Control of Space Robots

NASA, DARPA, and MIT decide to give high school students control of little robots aboard the ISS. What could possibly go wrong?

1 min read
Zero Robotics Competition gives High School Students Control of Space Robots

What high school student could resist the opportunity to use a robot to wreak havoc aboard the International Space Station? And by wreak havoc, I mean compete with other high school students to remotely control a little floating SPHERES robot under the close supervision of a real live astronaut.

The Zero Robotics competition, hosted by NASA and DARPA in cooperation with MIT, Aurora Flight Sciences, and TopCoder, tasks teams of high school students with programming one of those cute little SPHERES microgravity satellite robots to autonomously complete a "technically challenging" three dimensional race against another robot programmed by another team. The programming can be done in a high-level graphical environment (with an instant-gratification Flash-based simulator), and as the teams get more comfortable with things, they can transition directly into C, meaning that the students may actually learn something practical. Woo!

Once the teams have tested their code out in simulation and physically in two dimensions (using robots at MIT), a full 3D simulation tournament will be held, and the top 27 teams from that event will watch live via webcast as the real SPHERES robots execute their code on board the International Space Station in December of this year.

If you want in, or if you're interested in mentoring a team, you can check out all the details and fill out an application on the Zero Robotics competition website here. The deadline is September 5.

Also, ISS astronauts, if you're reading this (you do read our blog, right?), you should totally have Robonaut pretend to juggle the SPHERES robots in microgravity and make a video. It would be awesome.

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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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