Yet another development ripped from the pages of that great work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has moved a large step closer to reality this week as a professor in the US reveals a special prosthetic arm which - rather than being intended solely to replace missing limbs - could be used instead to create "a three-armed cyborg".
Most Reg readers will of course recall that one of the main characters in the Guide stories - eccentric Betelgeusean ex-Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox - had a third arm* (and also a second head).
Now mere Earthlings, should they choose to, could emulate Beeblebrox on the matter of limbs. Step forward Professor Gil Weinberg of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The good prof, we learn from a Georgia Tech announcement, has created a highly unusual robotic prosthesis for drummer Jason Barnes, replacing an arm which he lost when he "was electrocuted two years ago". Barnes' new arm is fitted with not one but two drumsticks, one of which is controlled by his nerve impulses and one of which, according to the prof, "has a mind of its own".
“Jason can pull the robotic stick away from the drum when he wants to be fully in control,” explains Weinberg. “Or he can allow it to play on its own and be surprised and inspired by his own arm responding to his drumming.”
Apparently the robo-drummer tech is actually superior to a human. We are told:
Because an embedded chip can control the speed of the drumsticks, the prosthesis can be programmed to play two sticks at a different rhythm. It can also move the sticks faster than humanly possible.
“I’ll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now,” Barnes explains, presumably referring to the musical genre rather than rival cyborg musicians.
“Speed is good," he adds. "Faster is always better.”
So much is already very impressive, but then the prof goes on to explain his ambitions to create not only a different and better drummer, but a human-machine cyborg superior to unaugmented meatsacks:
Weinberg says such robotic synchronization technology could potentially be used in the future by fully abled humans to control an embedded, mechanical third arm during time-sensitive operations. For example, Weinberg’s anticipation algorithms could be used to help astronauts or surgeons perform complex, physical tasks in synchronization with robotic devices.
Or to improve one's ski-boxing, perhaps. It would seem that embattled multitaskers eveywhere wishing for an extra arm may soon be able to have just that.
Read all about it from the Georgia Institute of Technology here. ®
*It isn't made clear in the H2G2 works just how Zaphod acquired his extra limb - it is described variously as having been "grown" or "fitted".