An Australian research laboratory has created a robotic arm which will feed you food, but with a catch: the eater needs to smile.
“There is an increasing trend in HCI (human–computer interaction) on studying human-food interaction, however, we discover that most work so far looks to focus on what happens to the food before and through eating,” says RMIT University’s exertion Games lab.
The lack of analysis on using interactive technology to augment the feeding experience lead the laboratory to develop Arm-a-Dine: a robotic third arm attached to a vest equipped with a camera which will detect facial expressions.
The arms are meant to be worn in pairs, as it needs an eating partner to perform.
Exertion Games laboratory explains that Arm-A-Dine is networked so the arm is controlled by the affective responses of a person’s eating partner.
If they smile, the robot arm will feed them. If they frown, the arm can feed the person wearing it.
“Mapping of the partner’s ‘more positive’ facial expression to the feeding of food to the partner, we hoped, would elicit joy, laughter, and a way of sharing based on the information of feeding each other that’s associated with positive emotions,” it says.
To add an element of randomness, if each users have neutral expressions, the arm can decide who to feed.
The machine’s range of motions remains quite crude, requiring users to position food right below the hand therefore it can grab from the plate, while the arm also stops 10cm faraway from a person’s face for safety reasons.
This means users need to lunge at their food when it’s close enough.
Based on some tests, exertion Games laboratory found that users enjoyed their meals more as that they had to put additional active effort into the eating process and also concentrate to their eating partners.
Some users also noted that having to concentrate to their partners additionally translated to better conversation and being less distracted by their phones.
Unfortunately, this means users can still have to concentrate while eating, rather than finally being able to play with their phones and eat hands-free.
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