How Ancient Catapults May Influence Future Robotics

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 11 2012 10:47 AM

How Ancient Catapults May Influence Future Robotics

If humanoid robots are to work alongside us—as doctors, as housekeepers, as anything in between—roboticists need to create dexterous, gentle hands for their machines. As the Economist’s Babbage blog reports, one solution to this challenge may lie in ancient catapult making:

Instead of having large motors in the forearm to wind the tendons in and out, the group’s engineers use smaller ones to twist those tendons. Such twisting exerts a huge force—a force strong enough to propel large boulders from the catapults used by Roman armies 2,000 year ago. Indeed, it was this military use that inspired the idea in the first place. 
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Drawing from the wars of the past fits neatly with today’s robotics, which is so deeply entangled with the military.

DEXMART, the European group behind this project, knows how to sell its products to the general population: In addition to drawing attention with its elegant catapult analogy, it has created a coffee-making robot. Less accessible is the group’s name: DEXMART “stands for DEXterous and autonomous dual-arm/hand robotic manipulation with sMART sensory-motor skills: A bridge from natural to artificial cognition.”

Read more on Babbage.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.