By Gregory Mone
Posted 08.23.2007 at 5:09 pm 0 Comments
The Segway Personal Transporter is nearing its sixth birthday this year, and the Onion News Network convened a panel of, ummmm, experts to discuss its impact. Though its not really fair to give up yet on the Segway, billed as a planet-saving revolution in transportation but viewed by many as an overpriced toy, it obviously hasnt fulfilled all that initial hype. The Onions absurdly satirical take is so wonderfully overdone that I'm not sure the main brain behind the Segway, Dean Kamen, would even be offended. One commentator recalls how he was fashioning a set of wheels to a pogo stick when he looked up, saw a Segway, and said, Thats what I want!—Gregory Mone
Having trouble reconciling your love of IKEA furniture with your nostalgia for futuristic, self-reassembling T-1000-like robots? Well, don't fret. Your problem has been solved by a team of engineers and artists at Cornell University who have created the Robotic Chair, a deceptively simple-looking wooden chair that collapses into several pieces and then proceeds to put itself back together.
Described as "the culmination of a 20-year-long investigation into the engagement between the individual and the object," the Robotic Chair is a fine example of computer-assisted robot autonomy. After the chair collapses, the images from a camera mounted above the chair's platform are digitized by a computer with software that converts the location of the chair's pieces from the video into points on a grid. This information is then transmitted wirelessly to the processing unit in the chair's seat, which uses 14 motors and an array of sensors to find its pieces in the correct order and reassemble itself.
This isn't the first time the Cornell folks have dabbled in robotic furniture. Their previous piece, the Table: Childhood, was a table with a brain. The Table, fully mobile thanks to a mechanical set of wheels, could express emotions and even display preferences toward an individual in the room by either following or avoiding a person. Perhaps one day the Table or the Robotic Chair will be honored to join the ranks of the Ig Nobels along with a previous winner, an alarm clock that runs away from you when you try to turn it off.
Whether you appreciate the chair for its artistic value or the engineering skill that went into its creation, or file it away with the rest of the YouTube videos you've been forwarded, just be thankful it was created by people calling themselves the D'Andrea Group and not an organization as ominous or clearly evil as Cyberdyne. —Dan Smith
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.