Being under the control of robots sounds like a sci-fi horror movie plot, but researchers have developed a robot that can do just that.

Researchers Create Robot That Controls Human Arm With Electrodes

This humanoid robot uses electrical current to move and control the test subject's arm. (Photo: Bruno Adorno/LIRMM)

The Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics and Microelectronics research team created a robot that can control a human limb with electrical pulses, according to IEEE Spectrum. Right now, the technology is only advanced enough to make a human holding a ball move their arm and then release the ball through a hoop, but they’re confident more advanced tasks are in its future.

Watch the robot control a subject’s arm:

Popular Science lays out the following timeline, voicing suspicions many could have over such a robot:

  • November 15, 2011: Is when it began.
  • March 11, 2014: The “robot made me do it” defense holds up in a court of law for the first time.
  • October 19, 2021: Robots of Canada send an army of slave humans against the United States.

But IEEE Spectrum reports that the robot’s creators have honorable intentions for its use:

Their goal is to develop robotic technologies that can help people suffering from paralysis and other disabilities to regain some of their motor skills.

To be sure, an advanced, dexterous robot arm would be capable of assisting paralyzed people with daily tasks. And other technologies such as robot teleoperation, brain-machine interfaces, and powered exoskeletons also promise to give physically disabled people more mobility.

But Adorno and his colleagues say there are advantages in having a robot controlling a person’s body. The technique they’re using to do that, known asfunctional electrical stimulation (FES), is used in rehabilitation and has physical and psychological benefits to patients.

“Imagine a robot that brings a glass of water to a person with limited movements,” says Bruno Vilhena Adorno, the study’s lead researcher. “From a medical point of view, you might want to encourage the person to move more, and that’s when the robot can help, by moving the person’s arm to reach and hold the glass.”

Another advantage, he adds, is that capable robotic arms are still big, heavy, and expensive. By relying on a person’s physical abilities, robotic arms designed to assist people can have their complexity and cost reduced. Many research teams are teaching robots how to perform bimanual manipulations, and Adorno says it seemed like a natural step to bring human arms into the mix.

To make the subject’s arm move precisely as the robot would want, the team placed four electrodes in specific places according to the parts of the arm it would contract and force to move. All the human has to do once fitted with electrodes was grab the ball and then the Fujitsu HOAP-3 humanoid robot is able to manipulate them.

Researchers Create Robot That Controls Human Arm With Electrodes

Electrode placement on test subject's arm. (Image: Bruno Adorno/LIRMM)

Now for what most people are wondering: what did the robot control feel like? IEEE spectrum reports Adorno as saying the current applied to the skin was safe and that “You get used to it.”