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High-Speed Bionic Arm Catches Objects in Mid-Flight (Video)

Researchers want to use the robotic limb to snatch space debris.

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

It’s no Willie Mays over-the-shoulder-at-the-warning-track catch*, but it’s still pretty impressive for a robot.

Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have unveiled a bionic arm with three joints and four fingers that can catch objects in mid-flight. It automatically detects the trajectory and shape of irregular objects, and can go from motionless to a closed grasp in less than five hundredths of a second.

The researchers trained the system’s software algorithms using a ball, an empty bottle, a half-full bottle, a hammer and a tennis racket. (Learning to return a serve** will presumably come next.)

“Increasingly present in our daily lives and used to perform various tasks, robots will be able to either catch or dodge complex objects in full-motion,” said Aude Billard, head of the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory at EPFL, in a statement.

The team already has a specific application in mind: Affixing the arm to satellites to capture flying space debris.

Check out the system in action in the video below:

* This is probably my first sports reference in a story during my journalism career. Feel free to send balloons.
** And this is my second.

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