Researchers at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and University of Tokyo recently developed an artificial limb that serves as a "third hand" that could support humans as they complete a variety of tasks.
This new limb, presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, can extend up to 250 mm and grasp different objects in a user's vicinity. "We are interested in human augmentation technologies, which aim to enhance human capabilities. We particularly focus on the physical augmentation of human bodies," Haoran Xie, one of the researchers who carried out the study told Tech Xplore.
Most existing wearable robotic arms are designed to be mounted on a human user's upper body (e.g., on the upper arm, waist or shoulders). While some of these systems have achieved promising results, they are typically based on bulky hardware and wearing them can be uncomfortable for users.
"Most previously developed supernumerary robotic limb devices are heavy and occupy large space. Instead, we proposed a compact robotic limb that can fold into small volume without the interrupt to the wearer's daily activities, especially for long-time usage," Xie said.
In contrast with other robotic arms, the novel one can extend significantly, becoming approximately 2.5 times longer than a human's average forearm length. Moreover, it is highly compact and thus easy to store.
In addition to being compact, the robotic limb developed by Xie and his colleagues is lightweight and comfortable to wear. This also makes it suitable for users with more fragile bodies, including children and older adults.
"We believe that the new limb will be as popular as smart watches in the near future, as anyone from an elder to a child can comfortably wear it for the whole day," he explained.
"Our experiments showed that it could be particularly useful in situations where humans complete tasks that involve a significant amount of object manipulation, such as cooking or cleaning. The researchers also believe that it could be used by doctors performing surgical operations," he added.