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8 Robotic Body Parts

The future is arriving at the speed of ...time. Back in the 1970s, Lee Majors received bionic implants that made him The Six Million Dollar Man. But that was fiction. In the 1980s, we were introduced to a cyborg with living flesh grown over it called The Terminator. That was also fiction. All that time, roboticists and medical researchers were working on real machines to take over the functions of human organs, such as respirators, mechanical hearts, and dialysis machines that we are familiar with. But what about other body parts? Here are some that can change someone's life, or maybe just give us a laugh.

1. Robotic Hand Shakes Yours

In the world of videoconferencing, it's difficult to get close to people. Businessmen often size each other up by shaking hands, a custom that goes back to antiquity. Roboticists from Osaka University have a way to fill in that gap in global meetings. The Robot Hand is made of silicon and sponge, can be heated to body temperature, and is embedded with pressure sensors. The hand that controls it remotely transmits the grip and amount of pressure to the person he's shaking hands with.

2. Robot Lips Send Kisses

Long distance romances suffer the same lack of tactile sensation. Up to the plate steps Kissenger, a robotic device that connects with a faraway lover via Skype. That is, if your lover has another Kissenger. The sensors in the odd-looking device transmit your lip movements to your partner. And vice-versa. The company that makes Kissenger, Lovotics, also makes a couple of other devices to transmit your passion.

3. Robotic Butt Responds to Touch

At first glance, and you may blush, the robot butt seems like some kind of art project. But it appears to be an exercise in robotic research. A human-shaped pair of buttocks named Shiriresponds to different kinds of touch with one of three reactions: tension, twitch, and protrusion. Sensors trigger the reaction of airbags implanted in the posterior.

4. Robotic Armpit Sweats

How many times have you said to yourself, "Gee, I wish I had an artificial armpit that sweats"? This prototype armpit produces industrial Japanese sweat, sort of like the real thing. This was built by Kevin Gren­nan, as part of the art project called The Smell of Control: Fear, Focus, Trust.

5. Robot Skin Senses Touch

Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao has been working on electronic skin. The flexible, stretchable, and resilient skin is embedded with tiny sensors that can detect the sensation of touch. Embedded transistors notice changes in the sensors and send signals about it. And it's solar-powered! There's no word on whether the skin will ever be implanted in humans, but the applications for using it on robots or in uniforms is exciting. The sensors in the electronic skin could someday be programmed to detect biohazards, weapons, or nuclear fallout.

6. Robot Eyes See

Dianne Ashworth suffered severe vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa. The Australian was fitted with a bionic eye in July. The device, developed by Bionic Vision Australia, is a set of glasses with a camera attached. A wire from the camera is implanted in the user's retina, so the light signals are sent directly to the retina, and then via optic nerve to the brain. The bionic eye requires the patient to have some functioning retinal tissue. See a videoof the device.

For those who have no retinal function, the Argus II bionic eye implant is beginning to be used in Europe. The device includes camera goggles and a wireless receiver that is implanted behind the eye. The receiver consists of 60 electrodes, which lights up like a 60-pixel display and sends those signals to the optic nerve. It may be lo-res, but it's an artificial retina!

The Bio-Retina by the Israeli company Nano Retinagoes a step further by generating 576-pixel grayscale image onto the receiver connected to the optic nerve. Another advantage will be that wireless signal transmission is replaced by laser lights that shine from glasses into the iris and onto the receiver. The Bio-Retina is not yet available, and is scheduled to go into clinical trials in 2013.

7. Robot Mouth Sings

The rubber robotic mouth was developed by Professor Hideyuki Sawada at Kagawa University in Japan to help hearing-impaired people with their speech. It was creepy enough when we first saw (and heard) it in 2010, but later we heard it sing!In this video, the mouth sings the Japanese children’s tune “Kagome Kagome.” The lips start to move about 30 seconds in.

8. Robot Muscles Walk

Claire Lomas completed the London Marathon this past May with the aid of a bionic suit, even though she is paralyzed from the chest down. The 32-year-old Lomas broke her neck and back in a horse riding accident in 2007, but she can walk with the aid of an exoskeleton. The $69,000 walking apparatus, called the ReWalk bionic walking device, responds to changes in balance, and takes a step when the wearer indicates the desire for one. After the marathon, Lomas took the exoskeleton home for everyday use. ReWalk assists with walking, standing, sitting, and even climbing inclines and stairs, thanks to an on-board computer. Photograph from Argo Medical Technologies.

See also: 7 Robot Animals and Creepy-Crawlies.

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856


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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899


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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894


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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907


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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859


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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844


Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859


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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810


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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837


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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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