Two groups of MIT scientists are working on robotic limbs, which when worn together can make you look like one famous comic book villain: Doctor Octopus. Unlike prosthetic limbs developed to replace real ones, the teams’ Supernumerary Robotic Limbs are designed to supplement your existing arms. One team showcased its latest shoulder-mounted SRL prototype at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Hong Kong, where members showed how it can take over tasks when your real arms are too busy. These particular SRLs take data collected by the accelerometer and gyro embedded in the base of the shoulder mount, as well as their accompanying wrist monitors.
Most of the robotic limbs you hear about are meant to replace arms and legs that have been lost to injury, but MIT is working on robotic limbs that are just meant to add on additional ones, giving people three or four arms so that they can get more done. Its researchers demonstrated the limbs — which they call supernumerary robotic arms — at a conference yesterday in China, and videos show that they’re already working to a basic extent. The current suit reportedly weighs just 10 pounds, but right now it seems to mainly be useful for holding light objects in place. Because the robotic limbs are meant to augment actual arms, they have to be controlled by something else. IEEE Spectrum, which hosted the conference, says that the arms instead base their movements off of the movements of their wearer’s entire body, measuring acceleration and orientation to predict what they should be doing. “Once we combine the most significant behavioral modes we are able to control the robot such that, from the wearer’s perspective, it behaves like an extension of his own body,” Baldin Llorens-Bonilla, an MIT researcher working on robotic limbs, tells IEEE Spectrum.