Columbia University's low-cost robotic arm is controlled by facial muscles, we go face-on (video)

We've seen Emotiv's Epoc headset control cars and trapeze acts, but now a small posse of students at Columbia University is teaching it how to control a robotic arm. The appendage, aptly named ARM for Assistive Robotic Manipulator, was envisioned as a wheelchair attachment to help the disabled. According to the team, the goal was to keep costs in the neighborhood of $5,000 since insurance outfits Medicare and Medicaid won't foot a bill for assistive tech that's much more than $10,000. To keep costs low, the crew built the limb from laser cut wood, and managed to keep the final price tag at $3,200. Since picking up EEG signals and interpreting them accurately can be tricky, the group says it settled on monitoring EMG waves, which are triggered by muscle movements, for additional reliability.

Lifting your eyebrows makes the device open its grip, clenching your teeth shuts it and moving your lips to the left and right twists the claw, while other motions are currently handled by using a PlayStation 2 controller. In the lab, the contraption has seven degrees of freedom, but it was reduced to five when we took it for a spin. It was hit or miss when this editor put the headgear on, between making sure facial gestures were spot on and the equipment's attempts to pick up clear signals.

ARM, Assistive Robotic Manipulator hands-on

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ARM's creators say effectiveness increases with practice, which may explain why this editor was finally able to seize a block and release it after a few minutes of trial and error. From here on out, the students will investigate depth perception for ARM to identify and grab objects by itself, a polycarbonate build and giving it a base so that it can move about independently. Head past the jump for a conversation with two of the minds behind the machine and a glimpse of the rig doing its thing.

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Columbia University's low-cost robotic arm is controlled by facial muscles, we go face-on (video)