Researchers out of Australia have come up with a robotic third arm that will allow users to feed themselves and their friends, bringing a whole new meaning to the idea of sharing our food.
The autonomous chest-mounted robot arm has been dubbed "Arm-A-Dine" and was developed out of the Exertion Games Lab at RMIT University in Australia and the Indian Institute of Information Technology Design, The Verge reported. In addition to being able to grab food right off the table, this robotic prototype can also decide for itself who it will feed it to using a facial recognition app.
If your dining partner is smiling, your attached arm will offer them the food. If they're frowning, you will be fed instead. However, if their expression is neutral, the arm will simply hover in between you two. Clearly, personal enjoyment dictates your food eating experience and it would be in your best interest to let yourself have fun with such a bizarre device if you wish to leave the table with a full tummy.
The team at RMIT University released a research paper in which they explain most food tech has been focused primarily on the preparation of food, rather than the eating experience itself.
"There is a limited understanding and exploration around using interactive technology to support the embodied plate-to-mouth movement of food during consumption, which we aim to explore through a playful design in a social eating context," the paper reads.
Of course, there are limitations to this device. The arms have limited degrees of movement and stop 10cm away from the wearer's mouth for safety purposes. But where it lacks in mobility it makes up for in creating a socially-engaging eating experience.
IEEE Spectrum reported that during a user study, some participants even remarked on how the clumsiness of the arm actually added to the social aspect, as it forced them to interact more with the person sitting across from them and made for pleasant and light-hearted enjoyment. One user even likened the experience to memories of their mother feeding them when they were a child, while others remarked on the endearing inaccuracy of the robot.
"Although I would love perfect arm movement each time but it is too boring," one user said. "If the arm is too perfect, then there is no chance of anything going wrong or something unexpected to happen and so there is no element of surprise."
While this robotic arm is not yet a commercial project and still has some minor kinks to work out, the prospect of a meal-time gadget meant to not only help you feed your guest but better engage with them as well is certainly an interesting one. In fact, in their paper, researchers explained they see a bright future for other eating hardware similar to Arm-A-Dine.
"We hope that our work inspires further explorations around food and play that consider all eating stages, ultimately contributing to our understanding of playful human-food interaction," researchers said.
So perhaps in a few years, we'll be entertaining our guests with good wine, lovingly prepared food, and an attached robotic arm to help feed them as well, changing the world of dinner parties as we know it. Only time will tell.