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How would you like an extra hand?

Visnu, as many other deities, is represented with several arms, usually 4, but sometimes 8 and even more. The multiple arms are intended to give the image of augmented power and indeed one can imagine that with more hands it would be possible to do many more things at the same time…. Image credit: Shikhar

I have often wished I could have an extra hand as I was doing some manual work at home, and probably that happened to you too.

It was clearly an impossible wish, but technology seems to be on the way to grant us that wish, as it did with many others in the past.

Researchers at Cornell university have been working to make this happen, along with several others (look at the clip showing a three-armed drummer from Georgia Tech).

A robotic arm attached to a normal arm provides this girl with extra capabilities… Credit: Cornell University

The robotic arm created at Cornell weights some 2kg and it is a compromise between a full arm attached to the torso of a person and an extra finger attached to the hand.

It has some limited capabilities, if compared to a normal human arm, but still it can complement a person’s arm in several ways. Actually, the researchers used social media to get ideas on what people might do if they actually had this extra arm.  It is interesting, and sometime funny, to look at these ideas.

What I found fascinating is that technology is becoming so powerful to make possible looking into augmentation of our capabilities, rather than just addressing the restoration of lost capabilities, which has been the main research focus so far.

What you see in the clips are clearly some prototyping robotic arms and it is most unlikely you will ever consider getting one. Yet, it is not difficult to foresee a time, in the next decade, when these extra arms may become common. You might find yourself in a hardware shop to buy a new drill and getting out with a robotic arm to help you holding the object you drill.  Further down the lane I can also imagine robotic arms seamlessly connected to our body as we are on the workplace helping us doing some specific job.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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