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Wearable robot arms to soon assist you

Last Updated: Saturday, October 27, 2012 - 16:43

London:Researchers have created a pair of intelligent, semi-autonomous arms that extend out in front of the body from the hips and are strapped to a backpack-like harness that holds the control circuitry to help just about anyone in their jobs.

Federico Parietti and Harry Asada from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the masterminds behind the prototype, suggest that one of the first uses could be to help factory workers or those with tricky DIY tasks to perform.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen robot arms designed to augment human abilities. It’s bold and out of keeping with anything I’ve ever seen to attach two arms to a human,” New Scientist quoted Dave Barrett, a roboticist and mechanical engineer at Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts, as saying.

Parietti and Asada have designed the limbs to learn and hopefully anticipate what their wearer wants.

The idea behind this is that algorithms in charge of the limbs would first be trained to perform specific tasks.
To show what the prototype can do, a camera observed a pair of workers helping each other drill into a loose metal plate and measured the distances between the tools and work surface, while feedback from sensors on the workers’ bodies tracked their movements.

This taught the arms where to grab and how much force to apply, so it could then help a solo worker to both hold the drill and secure the plate.
“If a robotic arm can do useful work, it can also hurt you badly,” Barrett said.

“Traditionally, people are kept far away from robot arms because the arms are dangerous. The concept of strapping robotic arms onto a person is terrifying,” he added.
The developers have tried to address some of those safety fears by building the arms from softer material.

Flexible components in the robotic arm, called series elastic actuators mean that less damage will be done if the arms do lose control.
The limbs were described at the Dynamic Systems and Control Conference in Florida last week.


First Published: Saturday, October 27, 2012 - 16:38
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