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Robot Takes Control of Human Arm to Complete Tasks

Researchers have come up with some pretty amazing ways for robots to accomplish their tasks, be it working together, moving in teams, or imitating the motion of living things in a thoroughly creepy way. However, engineers at the Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics, and Microelectronics have developed a technique that is as novel as it is terrifying. Their robot works with humans by taking control of their arm to place a ball in a net.

Here’s how it works: A cute, innocent-looking humanoid robot is equipped with a net on its arm. It’s programmed to keep an optimum distance and position between its net and a ball held by its human partner. When tasked with getting the ball in the net, the robot positions itself, but it also moves the arm of a blindfolded human. It entices the arm to move with functional electrical stimulation, where nerves in the arm are stimulated by electodes placed on the skin.

Besides being more than a bit scary, the researchers were testing to see how two imperfect participants worked together when performing a task. The robot, for its part, has limited mobility, and the human is blindfolded in the experiment. But researchers found that when two limited partners worked together in the experiment, they were able to accomplish their goal with a high degree of success.

This is all well and good for theory, but the researchers think there could be practical applications here as well. For instance, they believe that this technology could be used in elder care or rehabilitation facilities. In these scenarios, the humans may have limited mobility but need encouragement in order to recover or improve their health. So instead of simply having a robot assistant hand the patient a glass of water, the robot works with the patient to deliver the drink. That way the patient is more active and the likelihood that the water will actually be delivered is increased since the two are working together.

While the implications of this kind of human-robot interaction are extremely interesting, it is also somewhat troubling. By and large, humans like to be in control of their appliances, and not the other way around. Hopefully, further research will find a happy medium between working together and being manipulated.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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