MIT researchers developed a set of wearable mechanical limbs that watch what the wearer does with their arms to decide how to move.
Researchers at the d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology at MIT have developed a set of Supernumerary Robotic Limbs (SRL) that are designed to assist the wearers with their tasks in an aircraft manufacturing setting.
Supernumerary Robotic Limbs are meant to work as a second set of limbs for the wearer and not as replacements for missing limbs. The set of wearable robotic arms developed at the d’Arbeloff Lab are designed to augment the workspace and skills of the user and help them perform tasks.
There are two models of the robotic arms. One has the arms extend from the shoulders of the wearer, while the other model features robotic arms that extend from the hips. Both models are worn on the body with a backpack-like harness with padded straps and a belt.
In the model with the arms extending from the hips, the unit rests behind the lower back of the user and contains the system actuators. The robotic arms are situated in such a way that interference with normal human motion is minimal and the robotic arms have a larger space to work in and are able to act as arms or legs, to help brace the wearer when performing heavy-duty tasks like drilling.
The shoulder-mounted robotic arms can assist the wearer in tasks that are above their head or during instances when the wearer’s natural arms are busy with something else. For example, the wearer’s natural arms can hold something up to the ceiling while the robotic arms screw them into place. Another example is being able to open the door with robotic arms while the wearer is carrying a large object with both natural hands.
The robotic arms watch what the wearer does with his arms to decide how to move. They do this by tracking inertial measurement units that are on the wearer’s wrists. A third inertial measurement unit is located at the shoulder mount of the robot to track its overall orientation and motion.
According to the researchers, the SRL prototypes work better than exoskeleton models to some extent because an exoskeleton puts all its force on the arms or legs where it is positioned, while the SRL prototypes are completely separate and provide more options.
The wearable robotic arm prototypes were presented recently at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Hong Kong. The research is being funded by Boeing, which is trying to come up with ways to keep their aging aircraft builders safe from injury and more active.
Check out the videos below demonstrating how the SRL prototypes work.