Space & Innovation

Robotic Wrist-Worn Joint Gives You Another Hand

This MIT Media Lab creation gives a person a second, controllable gripping hand.

Ever wish you had an extra hand sprouting out of your wrist? Researchers from MIT made it happen with wearable robotic joints.

The new wearable multi-joint interface was created by Sang-won Leigh, a PhD student in MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group, and MIT professor Pattie Maes.

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Their gripper-like robotic device consists of 11 motors linked together with LEGO parts, and each one has 180 degrees of motion range. Cables connect to an armband sensor and also to a computer-based controller.

An armband sensor picks up electromyography signals from the arm muscles and filters them through a computer, allowing for gesture-based control. Different motions prompt the joints to respond in specific ways. Waving gestures can allow the wearer to switch between different control modes. See how it works in the video below.

"Extra machine joints integrated to our biological body may allow us to achieve additional skills," they wrote in a recent paper. "We demonstrate a desirable human-machine synergy that enhances our innate capabilities."

Wearable Robot Arms Are Here To Help

Wrist-worn robotic joints become extra fingers, allowing the wearer to perform what the researchers call tri-manual tasks. In addition to lifting a bucket that weighs about 2.2 pounds, the device can offer passive support for one-hand note-taking, and function like a joystick for a computer screen. The researchers think it could eventually be used to turn the pages of a book, and give musicians new ways to jam.

Leigh and Maes presented the robotic joint last week at CHI 2016, where they received an honorable mention for best paper.

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An extra wrist-worn robotic gripper could come in handy, especially for shopping that started out with a basket and escalated to a cart-worthy load. I also imagine it being helpful for people with numbness or arthritis, although the cuff would probably need more padding.

The Fluid Interfaces Group researchers say online that they envision a machine-driven evolution of the human body. Their invention points to a super-human future.

This week, our tech slideshow is all about the Mobile World Congress, the consumer electronics show that takes place in Barcelona each year. Innovative smartphones, wearable computers and Internet-connected cars are among some of the technologies that were on display. Here are some of our favorites.

The Mirama smart glasses, from

Japan-based Brilliant Service

, have a gesture recognition system combined with augmented reality technology. The wearer uses her hands to interact with virtual objects seen in the glasses. Brilliant service wants their smart glasses to one day replace for smartphones.

For its unique aluminum unibody design, the HTC ONE was awarded this year's "Smartphone of the Year."

Walldorf, Germany-based SAP is working with the German national football team to prepare for the World Cup in 2014, and take soccer to the next level. The ball has embedded sensors and electronics that capture and analyze a wealth of data in real time, including spatial analysis of player movements.

Blackphone is the world's first smartphone that places security back into the hands of the user. The $629 phone, which comes unlocked, was developed in a partnership between Silent Circle and Geeksphone. Along with the PrivatOS, built on Android, the phone comes with a suite of Silent Circle apps, including Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Contacts; anonymous search, private browsing and VPN from Disconnect. SpiderOak provides a secure cloud file storage and the Blackphone ships with a remote-wipe and device recovery tool.

LG was on hand to promote its new G Flex, which has a 6.0” curved OLED screen, that while not flexible, does have a shape that fits well into the palm of a hand. The big screen provides an impressive panoramic view, while minimizing glare.

Samsung's Galaxy Fit was among many wearable fitness devices on display at the Mobile World Congress. The Fit has a thin, curved shape meant to follow the wrist; the user navigates menus by swiping horizontally. Along with a heart monitor, the Fit is designed to provide notifications for calls, e-mail and text message. A personal fitness coaching app is an option.

One of the most surprising announcements at the Mobile World Congress came from Mozilla, who plans to launch seven new devices using Firefox OS, including a smartphone -- the ZTE Open C -- priced at $25. The devices are being aimed at people in developing countries.

Chinese company Gionee presented its Elife 5.5, the world's thinnest smartphone. At 5.5 millimeters thick, the phone edges out the 5.75mm Vivo X3. For comparison, the iPhone 5s is 7.6mm thick.

The new Xperia Z2 phone and tablet from Sony are waterproof, come with brighter screens and noise-canceling earbuds.

Sony's SmartBand SWR10 is also waterproof, which makes sense if you plan to sweat while wearing them.

Practically speaking, cars are becoming gadgets. Ford was among several automakers displaying their versions of fully connected Internet cars. These cars work in conjunction with a person's smartphone or work like a smartphone to run apps that connect to the Internet, play music and movies, display GPS navigation and control security features at home, among many other features.