This man has four arms – but he only controls two of them

Researchers in Tokyo have been working on a set of robotic arms that they say could help us communicate better.

Unlike other robotic arms, these ones don’t replace any missing limbs. Rather, they enhance what we can already do.

Although it’s still only a prototype, its makers say their invention could have many applications, and hope to be able to scale it up into something commercially useful.

Image: Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, The University of Tokyo

The idea behind Fusion, a research project led by Yamen Saraiji from the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, is that two people can effectively share the same body.

One person – the controller – wears a virtual reality headset and uses handheld controllers to control the robotic arms.

The other person wears a backpack that contains the two robotic arms, a camera, and a battery pack. The camera feeds visual images to the virtual reality device.

The controller can move the robotic arms to help the wearer to complete certain tasks, such as fitting pieces of an electronic circuit together, as shown in this video.

In addition, the robotic arms can be strapped to the wrists of the wearer, to move their own arms in the right direction. This is useful for teaching them how to do something, such as how to play a xylophone.

Although the backpack weighs 21 pounds, it’s still light enough to move around – and can be used outdoors. The battery pack lasts about an hour and a half.

Robotic arms help this person learn how to play the xylophone

Image: Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, The University of Tokyo

The researchers say that they are trying to improve situations where we have to share skills and actions with each other, either in social or professional settings.

The idea behind the invention is to enable two people to work together even when they are far apart in actual location.

The researchers suggest their invention could also be used in physical therapy.

Image: Keio University Graduate School of Media Design, The University of Tokyo

Fusion is an upgrade from Saraiji and his team’s previous invention, MetaLimbs, whereby a person could wear a pair of robotic arms controlled by moving their feet, but this invention proved to be a little unwieldy.

The researchers said that, while other studies have tried to do the same thing using camera and voice technology, theirs is the first to actually be able to force bodily movements.

Other research has looked at Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) but they say this lacks the ability to produce continual motion trajectory, and soon causes muscle fatigue.

The researchers are now hoping to get the funding to explore their invention further.

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