Huh? Robot arm is too easy to use, gets harder programming

So, imagine that you're using a robotic arm for the first time. It's intimidating, yet at the press of a button it suddenly moves over and grabs the desired object flawlessly. That's good, right? Apparently not, as participants trying out the arm preferred its manual mode.

Aman Behal, one of the developers of the arm and an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, was just as baffled: "We focused so much on getting the technology right… We didn't expect this."

The arm, which can be controlled via voice command, touchscreen input, mouse click or even joystick, will use its sensors to automatically figure out how best to approach an object and then grasp it. In tests, it really is as easy as pressing a button.

Yet in the pilot program, the UCF researchers found that disabled people in particular did not like how easy the arm was to use. The convenience was welcome, sure, but they preferred to use it on manual mode, where picking something up was imprecise but pulling it off was rewarding.

The automatic mode won't be scrapped, but Behal is now working to find the balance: a hybrid mode that isn't as clumsy as full manual control, but still takes a little work as the arm uses laser, infrared and ultrasonic sensors that are more reliable for on-the-fly control.

Bob Melia, a quadriplegic helping the UCF team with the research, is someone for whom the automatic option may still be most appealing:

"You have no idea what it is like to want to do something as simple as scratching your nose and have to rely on someone else to do it for you. I see this device as someday giving people more freedom to do a lot more things, from getting their own bowl of cereal in the morning to scratching their nose anytime they want."

Check the arm out in action below:


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