Multi-Tasking with a Robotic Third Arm

18 Oct Multi-Tasking with a Robotic Third Arm

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I could be so much more productive with an extra set of hands”?

Well your wish may be on the horizon.

Japanese researchers recently built a device using a mind-controlled robotic arm.  While a subject wears a noninvasive cap with electrodes over their scalp, the device uses algorithms to functionally operate a 3rd robotic arm.  What’s so amazing and unique about this device is that the 3rd arm works independently while the subject is using their two normal hands for another task.  The researchers demonstrated a subject typing on a keyboard while the 3rd arm grasps a bottle and allows the subject to drink.  In another example, the subject is able to balance a ball on a board with two hands, while the robotic arm grasps a bottle.  The device is able to decipher specific brain activity patterns linked to one task versus another.  This brain-machine interfaces gives a whole new meaning to multi-tasking.

Using the device, 15 participants were able to multi-task and successfully perform two different tasks ~75% of the time.  Some of the participants were even able to multitask 85% of the time.

This is astonishing when you consider how hard it is for most of us to accomplish the comparably simple grade school trick of patting your head and rubbing your belly with just two arms!

The true benefit of this type of system will be for people with disabilities and for the military.  However, this type of research makes you wonder, what would you do if you had a 3rd arm?