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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
See Spot Jump Rope
With a new appendage, Spot the robot dog can jump rope, flip switches, open and close doors, pick things up, and do other important tasks. Although people keep calling it an arm, it's really a neck with a small head at the end, and biodynamically it works like an animal picking things up in its mouth. I think that distinction is important for the human controllers, because it'll be a lot easier to figure out effective motions if you remember animals doing that than trying to compare it to your own hand stuck on a doglike body. Biomimicry works best when you study living examples closely.

As a hobby-roboticist, I'm really excited about this. I love the cheetah, which broke a lot of new ground, but Spot is much more useful now that it can manipulate objects pretty well. It's not really graceful yet, but it doesn't need to be perfect to get the job done. It's good enough to deploy, and actually quite good for a bottom-of-intermediate scout and rescue bot. There are lots of things this type of bot can do. I'm especially impressed by the rope-turning, snow walking, and digging with a trowel (although I should point out that it's bad to pick up a potted plant by its top, because that can break off). The idea is to use robots like this in hazardous conditions, which is great.

I could also see this being extremely enabling for someone with mobility issues -- more so than a biodog, in fact. (This would lead to a natural experiment of the cloth mother/wire mother type. Would humans prefer a less useful but more cuddly biodog or a less cuddly but more useful robodog? It might vary depending on how much help they need or how much they like robots.) If you can operate computer controls, you can run a robodog, although I suspect it would be a lot easier with adaptive controls than the original meant for two fully functional hands. But it seems like robodog wrangler would be a great job for many disabled people. Robo-astronaut is another, and these things also work for search-and-rescue tasks.

Gosh, now I'm tempted to do a bedridden superhero who saves the day with an army of robopets. :D

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