It's no Michelangelo, but a robotic arm wielding a brush has completed a multi-colored oil painting at the behest of nothing other than human eyes. The system has been developed as engineers search for intuitive means of controlling robotic limbs, demonstrating how one day we might be able to wash the dishes while playing video games at the same time.

An extra arm or two sure sounds convenient and is something humans have long fantasized about, from Shiva the four-armed Hindu deity to Goro, the equally enabled muscular fighting machine in Mortal Kombat. From a robotics standpoint, a mechanical arm that performs functional tasks is possible, but the real challenge lies in how this limb might be controlled so that it feels natural enough to be of benefit.

Dr Aldo Faisal leads a team of engineers at Imperial College London that is working on this very problem. They have developed computer software called Gaze Space technology, which is a system that tracks a person's eye movements and converts them into robotic commands. Faisal says the reason for this approach is that where we're looking can give a useful indication of what we intend to do with our hands.

In the demonstration, one of his graduate students Sabine Dziemian puts the system through its paces. She describes controlling the arm as "intuitive," and is able to paint lines simply by looking first at the start point and then at the end point. To change colors, she blinks three times, which sees the tip of the brush poised over three different options, from where she simply looks at the color she wants and the tip is dipped into the paint. Blinking three times returns the brush to the canvas.

Further to offering an extra set of hands around the house, controlling robots like this might prove useful in other ways, like assisting those with motor impairment or other disabilities, for example. For this reason, translating natural functions of the human body, namely thought, into robotic commands is being explored the world over, with mind-controlled telepresence robots and bionic hands other promising recent advances in this area.

You can see Faisal's painting robotic arm and hear from the researchers in the video below.

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