Supernumerary Robotic Limbs: robotic arms that will lend a helping hand #WearableWednesday


DVICE has the latest on a new set of robotic arms out of MIT’s d’Arbeloff Laboratory.

How many times have you been doing something, like lifting a heavy or bulky object, and said, “I wish I had an extra set of arms?” Well, now, your wish has come true. A group of researchers from MIT have created that second set of arms — robotic arms — that you’ve been looking for. All you have to do is strap the robotic arm system on like a backpack and let them help you when your measly human arms just aren’t up to the task alone.

Unlike prosthetic robotic limbs, these new Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRLs) are meant to be strapped over your back, where the arms can come over your shoulders or extend from around your waist and assist you when needed. Maybe you need to attach something to your ceiling and can’t hammer a nail in to hold it in place without also holding it with two hands. With the SRLs, the robotic arms hold that object for you, freeing up your arms to do the actual hammering.

Or maybe it’s something more simple: you’re holding several bags of groceries and don’t have a free hand to dig into your pocket for your house key. Let the robotic arms hold the bags and your hands are free to open your front door. If you think about it, you might ask, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

These robotic arms are also smart. A system of gyros and accelerometers that you attach to your wrists lets the system see what your arms are doing. This lets the robotic arms know when you want to do something like lift a heavy object, hold an object above your head, or pick up objects.

The entire system only weighs around 10 pounds, so in construction environments (or settings where employees often lift heavy items), robotic arms are a no-brainer and could prevent injury, as well as speed up work. But for those who often need an extra set of arms at home (perhaps for holding your beer), these would come in handy there, too.

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