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The Department of Mad Scientists: 11/26/10

cover art

I love to browse the new shelves of nonfiction books at my local library. One recent title that caught my attention because of it's goofy title was The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore.

The book covers many of the recent advances by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, some which have made their way into civilian applications and others that are perhaps on the horizon. There are chapters on artificial limbs, the internet, GPS and driverless cars.

The chapter that made me pick up the book was the one on artificial limbs. It has a brief history of prosthetics and the problems faced in the development of arms and hands with better fine motor skills. Ultimately it's a matter of weight and balance. Even a lightweight limb that is strapped on will quickly become a tiresome burden to the person using and wearing it if it is off balance. The newest ones being developed use technology similar to what the Segues use to auto-balance, taking most of the work of balancing the limb off of the user's body, thus making it feel lighter and more natural.

The other chapters were just as well written but ended up being topics I was already very familiar with. That familiarity made the rest of the book an easy read. I ended up finishing it in the course of a single weekend when I had expected to take at least a week on it.

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Saturday, November, 27, 2010 at 03:00:15


This looks like a fun book... I love this stuff. Although sometimes DARPA can get a little scary. I'm going to have to look for this one.

Comment #2: Monday, November 29, 2010 at 20:01:30


There wasn't any scary stuff in this book. I think you'll enjoy it.

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