Cornell engineers show why a robotic third arm is the ultimate productivity hack

The notion of possessing additional robotic limbs still sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it won’t necessarily always be this way. At Cornell University, researchers have been working on building just such a technology — and, every bit as crucially, proving why it is useful.

“We are developing a wearable robotic third arm that can assist you in collaborative tasks,” Dr. Guy Hoffman, assistant professor at Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, told Digital Trends. “It essentially gives you an extra forearm below the elbow that has motion capabilities beyond a human arm. We envision it helping people in a variety of work-related tasks, such as picking up objects, stabilizing the person and objects, and aiding human-human collaboration.”

According to Hoffman, what is interesting about Cornell’s robot arm is not that it enhances or augments existing abilities, but that it makes entirely new capabilities available to the wearer. While previous research in this field has explored large, industrial-scale arms worn on a people’s back or shoulder, or else smaller additional fingers, this project fills in some of the ground between these two extremes.

In this case, that means a short arm and gripper that’s able to rotate 120 degrees and extend its gripper 16 centimeters. It’s undoubtedly severely limited compared to a person’s regular limbs, but nonetheless opens up new possibilities for users to more efficiently carry out moderately demanding tasks. Possible use cases may include package handling, warehouses, or supermarket stockrooms. It might also be useful in other small-space workplaces, such as manufacturing cells or restaurants. In some cases it could allow a single person to carry out a job that would otherwise require two people working together in tandem.

“We are now working to make the arm autonomous so that it can be a truly collaborative agent, but one unlike other robots: a collaborative robot you wear on your sleeve, so to speak,” Hoffman continued. “We are working on robot path-planners and controllers that can compensate for the uncertainties introduced by the human. We’re also looking at robot behaviors that can be learned from humans in the specific scenario of collaborative assembly.”

Although commercialization isn’t something the team has in mind for the short term, they’re doing invaluable work exploring possibilities for wearable robots a few years down the line. Who knows: were you to read this article in 2037, it may seem inconceivable that we ever managed with just two arms!

Emerging Tech

Google plots radar-sensing tech that could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.