Extra robot limbs anyone? This Japanese lab has you covered

For the past five years or so, Information Somatics Lab has been making real breakthroughs in the world of robotics
Get a grip! The robotic limbs being invented by this lab are truly extraordinary. (Information Somatics Lab, University of Tokyo)

If only I had an extra pair of hands!

How many times have you thought this? While carrying a heavy stack of books and needing to open a door, for example? Or when you are carrying some plates of food from the kitchen and someone says, "Can you bring the salt shaker in, please?"

Well, even if they don't have the most practical option for you (yet), a Japanese robotics department at the University of Tokyo called Information Somatics Lab (ISL) have been working on this very problem. And their inventions are inspiring, curious, and could one day lead to a future where we're all walking around with that extra pair of arms that we're often wishing for.

How do you wear them?

The limbs are usually worn with a combination of belts and shoulder straps. (Information Somatics Lab, University of Tokyo)

First off, these experiments are not about turning anyone into a half-human, half-machine thing, like Cyborg from the Justice League. These extra limbs are not permanently joined to your body or anything. (That's good, because we're not quite ready to commit to becoming a walking robot octopus!)

Instead, you wear them with a system of straps and belts. They are almost like a backpack or a fanny pack. Throw them on when you need a little help with a task. Take them off for a day in the park with friends. (Or still keep them on and blow everyone away on the jungle gym!)

But, of course, the real question is...

How do you control them?

You might imagine that these limbs would be controlled using your mind, but that is not quite possible. (Again, not yet anyway!) Instead, these ingenious inventors have found many ways to allow users to control the limbs using motions from other body parts.

Some extra limbs are controlled with motions from the user's shoulders. Others are moved using joysticks so they can be set and locked into a position (such as for lifting a big, heavy item) while allowing your real hands to do other things (such as opening that door).

Then there are ones that are controlled with the users feet and legs, like the MetaLimbs in the video below.

In this way, it's almost like bringing a person's feet higher up on the body and giving them more hand-like ability to hold and manipulate objects. For tasks done while sitting, the foot-controlled limbs really are like an extra pair of hands. Neat!

The future of doing stuff?

Each of these extra robot limbs is very specifically made for certain tasks. And not for others.

The feet-controlled ones are great while sitting, but would be a mess while walking. The shoulder or joystick-controlled ones let you walk around quite easily, but aren't as good at subtle adjustments or being used at the same time as you use your real hands and arms.

In other words, it's all still in the testing stage.

But it's still fun to imagine all the possibilities of having an extra pair of hands. Check out some of the other options they have invented at ISL in the video from Mashable below.

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