German engineers have created intelligent robot arms capable of learning movements similar to how a baby learns. The fact they look like the evil robotic arms of Spider-Man's nemesis Doctor Octopus apparently doesn’t bother the creators.
The German manufacturer, Festo, created a concept version of the arms in 2010. But these pneumatic artificial muscles were not intelligent enough to move with grace or dexterity. By using this new intelligent learning software the arms effectively have muscle memory.
The arms are able to "remember" previous movements so when going to pick something up their artificial "muscle memory" is able to act without "thought". That's a lot of quotation marks as comparison to human muscles is hard to avoid since this machine works so similarly. Except, of course, with the power to crush a puny human should it wish to.
The intelligent mapping of the arms' positions is achieved using "goal babbling". This is similar to how a baby reaches repeatedly until it achieves grasp and remembers how much its muscles needed to contract to grab. The robot arms are similar, allowing them to create a virtual map which relates the arm's precise position to the pressure in each pneumatic tube.
This smart learning means that the arms can be used in industry, for example, by anyone. So the arms won't require trained users to operate them. This could be a huge leap for factories as the arms can pick up and move objects as small as a hazelnut or as fragile as a bulb.
The New Scientist journalist who tried the arm wrote: "As I move the bionic trunk in Steil's lab into different positions it initially resists, but then yields and follows my movement. The next time I try to push it to the same spot, it moves easily, because the behaviour has been learned. The robot now has muscle memory – which makes it seem even more alive."