Robot Can Control a Human Arm

Using electrodes on a human test subject’s arm, a robot could manipulate the human arm as well as its own arms to coordinate an action between them. This is relevant to the pursuit of robots that can assist paralyzed individuals, by using the robot body in addition to helping the paralyzed person move their own limbs. Below is a video showing this robot in action:


From Automaton:

The robot controls the human limb by sending small electrical currents to electrodes taped to the person’s forearm and biceps, which allows it to command the elbow and hand to move. In the experiment, the person holds a ball, and the robot a hoop; the robot, a small humanoid, has to coordinate the movement of both arms to successfully drop the ball through the hoop…

“Imagine a robot that brings a glass of water to a person with limited movements,” says Bruno Vilhena Adorno, the study’s lead researcher. “From a medical point of view, you might want to encourage the person to move more, and that’s when the robot can help, by moving the person’s arm to reach and hold the glass.”

Another advantage, he adds, is that capable robotic arms are still big, heavy, and expensive. By relying on a person’s physical abilities, robotic arms designed to assist people can have their complexity and cost reduced. Many research teams are teaching robots how to perform bimanual manipulations, and Adorno says it seemed like a natural step to bring human arms into the mix…

The researchers emphasize that the control of the human arm doesn’t have to be precise, just “good enough” to place it inside the robot’s workspace. They claim that having a robot able to control a person’s arm is better than having a very dexterous robot and a person’s weak, unsteady limb…

He plans to continue the project and adds that they’re now improving the electrical stimulation. They’re now able to move the elbow in both directions, for example. Eventually they hope to move the arm to any point in space.

The basic idea, then, is that it’s difficult to provide assistance to people if they can’t effectively use their own limbs, so why not have their helper robot move their limbs for them? 

I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: terrifying. Besides that, it should be noted that neurons that don’t get any stimulation for a while can end up dying off, so some paralyzed individuals may not have the option of just getting outside stimulation for their nerves, since they won’t be intact any more. I imagine this solution, activating neurons from the outside, might head that degeneration off if it’s used not too long after the paralyzing event. 


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