Researchers from Australia and India have taken the revolution of food-robots to the next step with the "Arm-A-Dine" – a robot arm that is worn in the middle of the chest that picks up food off the table and conveys it to you or your dining partner's mouth.
The intention is not to stuff you so full that you won't be able to move, no! The Arm-A-Dine is actually a prototype designed to augment the social experience of eating. In a research paper from the Exertion Games Lab at RMIT University in Australia and the Indian Institute of Information Technology Design, researchers explain how most food tech is focused on the preparation of food and not the eating experience.
In a world where researchers warn about a "loneliness epidemic" and many meals are taken with a smartphone in hand, Arm-A-Dine is here to remind us that eating is actually a social event. So Arm-A-Dine not only grabs food from the table, but it also makes a judgement on who to feed it to. There is a facial recognition app running on an attached smartphone which scans your dining partner's expression. So if they are smiling, your arm offers them the food; and if they are frowning, you get to be fed by the robotic arm.
Arm-A-Dine is not a commercial project – not yet at least – and the limitations of the hardware are obvious. The arms can only grab certain items, have limited degrees of movement, and does not seem to be that accurate when it comes to actually feed people. As the paper notes: "The gripper stops 10 cm away from the wearer’s mouth for safety reasons."
As the paper also notes, this weird robot arm really does succeed in making eating a more socially-engaging experience. Testers who used the Arm-A-Dine said it made them nostalgic "it reminded me of my mother feeding me when I was a child" and encouraged them to concentrate on eating "I had to focus [...] in order to pick it up [food] properly".
Testers even embraced the clumsiness of the arm itself, as it meant they had to work around its limitations and engage with the person opposite, rather than just relaxing and being. As one tester noted: "The most exciting bit was when the third arm moved strangely in the air. It felt as if the arm was teasing us by fluttering between both our mouths."
So remember that next time you sit down to dinner. When your dining partner complains that you really shouldn't "wave food around the table" or "waggle potatoes in my face," just tell them "I'm augmenting the social experience of dining," before silently stuffing your face.
Have a look at the Arm-A-Dine in action below to learn more.