We are all familiar with Spiderman’s enemy, Dr. Octopus, who has been featured in comic books since 1963. The character gives us chills all over our body, doesn’t it? Now, that vision of humans with extra limbs is taking form at MIT. You just got to take out the villainous part! Researchers at MIT are adding many robotic arms to help get tasks done which the ordinary arms of human beings cannot do.
Ask yourself the number of times you’ve said, ‘Wish I had an extra pair of arms!’ there are many tasks which would be a lot easier if there was just another assisting hand. Now, the engineers are building up robotic arms which could assist as helping hands.
This project is headed by Baldin Llorens-Bonilaa and Federico Parietti from the Mechanical Engineering Department at MIT’s d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology.
Baldin has been working on robot shoulder arms and has also contributed to task planning. Meanwhile, Federico has been has been working on lower limbs, bracing strategies and stability.
This concept was first showcased with installing ceiling panels in an airplane. This task would definitely be frustrating for a single person. So, the Supernumerary Robot Limbs (SRL) team took this task into consideration and then added two lightweight robot arms to a frame which was attached to a backpack. To avoid strain, the arms are cleverly attached over the spine. The user can easily command the arms to move with a joystick or a gamepad.
The most wonderful part of this research is that the arms decide for themselves when and where to help. There are sensors on the wrists and on the robot which recognize when the human is on the task and then assigns the robot arms to help.
You can see later in the video how beautifully the task is done. These arms are programmed by the ‘teach by demonstration’ method. A second human will first show the robot how to do the task by moving its arms manually and then the robot will remember the lesson and make the moves on its own.
Another technique for the robot arm is to attach it to the user’s waist. This will provide stability automatically. This technique usually comes in handy for construction workers.
The project is supported by Boeing. The team says that there are a number of applications for this technology like helping senior citizens and other assembly operators.
The present design is the third generation of robot arms developed, and the shoulder arms weigh about 11-12 lbs. The team is working on improving the robot by reducing the weight and improving the coordination.
Sources: MIT d’Arebeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology, Federico Parietti, Baldin Llorens-Bonilla.