In comics and movies, Spider-Man fights Doctor Octopus, a mad scientist with four robotic tentacles. Sounds like pure fantasy, right? Not to the group of MIT researchers who want to make Doc Ock’s limbs a reality.
Those researchers recently presented prototypes of their Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRLs) at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Hong Kong. The prototypes come in two flavors: a pair of limbs that attach to the wearer’s shoulders and another set that anchors to the waist. The shoulder unit, which weighs 10 pounds, is capable of opening doors and bracing heavy objects while the wearer’s flesh-and-blood limbs are busy doing something else:
How does it work? “The SRL watches what you’re doing with your arms to decide how to move. It does that by monitoring two inertial measurement units (IMUs) that the user wears on the wrists,” is how IEEE Spectrum describes the shoulder SRL. “A third IMU sits at the base of the robot’s shoulder mount, to track the overall orientation and motion of the SRL.”
The waist-mounted SRL can grip objects or brace against a surface to support the wearer’s body weight. As IEEE Spectrum explains, Boeing has funded much of the research, with the hope that robotic augmentation could help its industrial employees work more efficiently in a factory setting; picture an engine-builder using a shoulder-mounted SRL to lift an ultra-heavy component. No word on whether the technology can be used to fight superheroes.
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Image: MIT d’Arbeloff Laboratory