If you're jealous of Tony Stark's Iron Man suit, but don't have billions of dollars to build your own, a group of Japanese researchers have come up with a cheaper, and arguably more useful alternative: An extra pair of robot arms that can help out when your own limbs are busy.
Developed at the Inami Hiyama Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, along with researchers from Keio University, the MetaLimbs will officially be unveiled at the upcoming Siggraph 2017 conference, although this video gives us our first look at how the arms work.
Instead of using mind control, or attempting to give the arms some level of autonomy and intelligence to know what the wearer wants them to do, the extra limbs mimic the movements of the user's legs. Motion tracking gear attached to their feet and knees directly translates the wearer's leg motions to the arms, giving the user precise control over their new helper limbs.
When I asked Johnny Matheny if I could shake his hand, I was admittedly a little nervous. The soft-spoken Floridian lost his lower left arm to cancer eight years back. His new arm -- an advanced, mind-controlled prosthetic developed by DARPA -- can crush a human human skull like a child squeezing a mandarin.
The approach does introduce some complications when it comes to using the arms while walking: You simply can't. And you can forget using them to rise to the top of the UFC fighting leagues.
This is far from the first attempt to create an artificial human limb, but previous attempts have focused on replacing arms or legs that have been lost in combat, or due to medical reasons. In comparison, the MetaLimbs are somewhat of a superfluous creation, worn mostly for convenience. But the research will almost surely benefit those developing replacement limbs as well, given the novel approach to how these arms can be precisely controlled.
There's no word on how far these researchers plan to take their brilliant creation, but the next time you're forced to work through your lunch hour, just imagine how wonderful an extra pair of arms would be, letting you enjoy a sandwich and drink without taking your real hands off your keyboard.