European research group Fraunhofer has developed an inertial sensor system which, together with a handheld remote control, lets people program the movement of a robotic arm simply by moving their own arms, in a sort of "follow the leader" fashion.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing, Engineering, and Automation in Stuttgart, Germany, devised algorithms governing the interactions of inertial sensors in the input device, which can be used to control the six-jointed robot arm.
The algorithms "fuse the data of individual sensors and identify a pattern of movement. That means we can detect movements in free space," the institute's Bernhard Kleiner said in a release.
Potential applications include easier programming of industrial robots: instead of teaching an assembly robot what to do by guiding it with a baton that it follows with laser tracking, workers could instruct the robot by simply moving their own arms.
A potential medical application is regulating the movements of active prostheses. The inertial sensor system could be attached to a patient's upper thigh and control the motors in a prosthetic foot to achieve a smoother gait.
The technology will be shown off at the Sensor +Test 2011 trade fair, June 7-9 in Nuremberg, where visitors will be able to control the robot using their arms, and make it catch a ball.