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Totally armed! Wearable, hydraulically powered robotic arm can hold tools, play badminton and even smash through walls

A new wearable robotic arm transforms users into a super hero by giving them an extra hand when performing tasks-and the opportunity to smash through walls.

The hydraulic arm mounted at the waist has three degrees of freedom, moves nine feet per second and can pick up objects weighing up to 11 pounds.
The system itself weighs approximately the same as a human arm, and is controlled by a smaller version of the robot operated by a nearby second person.

Researchers have shown that the technology can paint, wash windows, hand tools to a human worker, and play badminton along with smashing a construction site through a wall. According to IEEE Spectrum, the robot was created by researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada and is known as a ‘supernumerary robotic arm,’ which is a wearable robot that supplies an additional limb to a human.
The system is fitted with magnetorheological clutches and hydrostatic transmissions with the purpose of ‘ mimicking the performance of a human arm in a multitude of industrial and domestic applications.’

The robot weights approximately six pounds, which is around the same as a human arm and can raise up to 11 pounds, but in order to protect it from hitting the consumer in the face, its motions are limited.
A second person stands by for what is considered a master-slave setup, with a miniature handheld weapon.
Researchers view this robot as a co-worker when performing tasks, as it increases productivity or is able to perform other jobs in order to free the user to make decisions based on creativity or judgment, such as painting or construction.

Catherine Véronneau, lead author of the study, told IEEE in an email: ‘I get used to it quickly, and I can compensate for some of the movements (x, y, and z translational movements), but I still have some remaining issues to compensate for torsion movements (like if the arm is hitting a tennis ball with a racket), which is funny!’

‘We also noticed that the harness needs to be rigidly connected to the body, because if there is some backlash between the harness and the body, it can be uncomfortable.’

Véronneau and her team are looking to add sensors to the arm to allow the user to pick vegetables as well as more collaborative tasks to be completed.

‘Making a third arm (or any SRL [supernumerary robotic limb]) autonomous involves understanding the human intent behind actions, which is really dependent on the application,’ she explained.

‘For instance, if the job of a supernumerary pair of arms is opening a door while the user is holding something, the controller should detect when is the right moment to open the door.

So, for one particular application, it’s feasible. But if we want that SRL to be multifunctional, it requires some AI or intelligent controller to detect what the human wants to do, and how the SRL could be complementary to the user (and act as a coworker)’.

So there’s much to discover in the huge area of ‘human intent’.

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