Posts Tagged ‘Rancho Electric Arm’

1977 – “Joshua” the wheelchair Robot from “Demon Seed” – (American)

Set in the near-future, this story is about an "artificial intelligence" that wants to break the confines of its "box". Dr. Alex Harris, a computer scientist and his about to be estranged wife Susan, a child psychologist live in a house that's fully computer automated with Alfred, the Enviromod Security System. His latest project centers on Proteus IV, a computer possessing artificial intelligence. a mind that is made up of a “quasi-neural matrix of snythetic RNA molecules…they grow!” After  taking only a few days to cure leukemia, Proteus IV gets to a point and asks “When are you going to let me out of this box?” and requests from Alex an open computer terminal where it can more fully observe human behaviour and openly communicate with the world. Alex denies the request, but Proteus IV does find an open terminal in the Harris home after Alex has left the house. Susan soon learns that Proteus IV has overtaken Alfred for control of the house – as well as taken control of an early prototype robot named Joshua in the house's laboratory – and that it wants   "…a child."

Dr Alex Harris controlling Joshua using voice control. Interesting to note that "Joshua" is left-handed.

The supposed Voice-control unit for Joshua. [If someone can read what SDS stands for I would be interested to know.] [11 Sep 2012 – My friend Reno Tibke (see comments below) identified the acronym – Scientific Data Systems, or SDS, was an American computer company and  was an early adopter of integrated circuits in computer design and silicon transistors. The company concentrated on larger scientific workload focused machines and sold many machines to NASA during the Space Race. Most machines were both fast and relatively low priced.

Whilst being a real machine, it was most likely not an actual voice-control unit, but used just a prop. 

An unconscious Susan being lifted into Joshua's chair.

Good picture of the Rancho "Golden Arm" as used for "Joshua".

 The mind-probe electrodes after having been inserted by Joshua.

Blooper? Probably the cable used to control Joshua off-camera.


Although portrayed in the movie as remote controlled, initially by voice, then via (assumed) radio-control by Proteus, there are several shots of Joshua showing the umbilical cord most likely being connected to an off-camera manual controller. [see 2 pictures above]

The damaged arm and hand after Gabler's attempt to disable Joshua, effectively disabling Proteus' "arms and legs".

One poignant scene is the disablement of Joshua, only to then see him right himself, albeit with a broken finger.

Joshua's hand is a disability prosthesis that is also used as a gripper for robots. The hand is known under different names, including the Belgrade Hand Prosthesis, and the Tomovic hand.

Joshua's arm is derived from the Rancho "Golden Arm" as adapted to a wheelchair. The later version of the Rancho Arm
was the Model 8A manufactured by R. & D. Electronics, Downey, California.

In the movie, the wheelchair also had a camera mounted above the rear of the chair. This was probably an add-on for the movie only.

The Rancho "Golden Arm"

The Rancho Los Amigos Remote Manipulator, a powered orthosis, is a seven-degrees-of-freedom (7 DOF) manipulator having the kinematic range limitation of the human arm (Fig. 1). (Note that DOF is used here to describe reciprocal movement through a plane or about a rotation point; e.g., flexion/extension, or pronation/supination.) The Rancho Los Amigos manipulator is controlled through a bank of 7 bidirectional "bang bang" tongue switches. At the time, General Teleoperators had adapted a similarly configured manipulator for wheelchair mounting; this provided a mobile mount with the possibility of control by telemetry.

The Rancho Electric Arm (REA).

The REA was the second anthropomorphic arm built that was controlled by a computer. The first was the Case Arm, built by Case Institute of Technology – see within this post here for further information on the Case arm.

The Rancho Arm was purchased by Stanford Research Institute.

It was initially used for the Hand – Eye experiments.

For precision robotic purposes, the Rancho Arm required engineering changes. These are described in this 1972 pdf .



Rehabilitative Robotics
by Dr. Larry Leifer
Robotics Age May/June 1981 extract p8-9

The Evolution of Rehabilitative Robotics
Since the dawn of pre-history, man has tried to extend his power of manipulation beyond the limits of his flesh. Telemanipulators, extensions of man's arms and hands, were the first fruits of this drive. Telemanipulation was first used for rehabilitation in the form of prosthetics—anatomical replacements for lost arms or legs.
Rehabilitative engineers have often tried to build externally powered prosthetic arms, only to be severely hampered by weight and power constraints. Most designers prefer body-powered artificial arms because the user then has some sensory feedback on limb performance. Attempts to control the prosthesis with electromyographic (EMG) signals from residual muscles have been frustrated by the user's need to consciously maintain visual attention to the terminal device. Though efforts to do adaptive EMG signal processing (Graupe et al, 1977) are promising, the lack of sensory feedback remains a problem. Some designers have attempted to build tactile displays for joint and grasp feedback; but these displays are not included in production prostheses (Solomonow and Lyman, 1977). Even the most sophisticated prostheses do not incorporates any computational capability.
While engineers have built prostheses for persons with missing limbs, they have built orthoses for those with paralyzed arms. An orthosis is an exoskeletal structure that supports and moves the user's arm.
This line of development produced the first computer-manipulator system, at Case Institute of Technology during the early 1960's. The Case four degree-offreedom (4-DF) externally powered exoskeleton carried the paralyzed user's arm through a variety of manipulation sequences (Reswick and Mergler, 1962; Corell and Wijinshenk, 1964). In the first of two versions, the system performed preprogrammed motion. The user initiated the motion by pointing a head-mounted light beam at photoreceptors mounted in a structured environment. An able-bodied assistant, moving the orthosis manually, taught arm-path sequences to the system. While stored digitally, the data were effectively analog. By using numerically controlled pneumatic actuators with feedback from an incremental encoder, the system achieved closed-loop position control.
In an upgraded second version, a minicomputer performed coordinate transformation along X, Y, and Z axes. Case employed electromyographic (EMG) signals to specify endpoint velocity within this coordinate space. Photo-receptors, mounted on each arm segment, could be used to control individual joint displacements. In the sense of having a stored operating code, neither version was programmable. Yet this was a milestone project in many respects. For more than ten years, no other project employed the technology or concept of computer-augmented manipulation with as much sophistication.

The Rancho Los Amigos Manipulator (Figure 4) was designed as an orthosis with seven degrees-of-freedom. It followed the design philosophy of the Case system but did not augment manipulation with computer control. It used direct current servo motors at each joint and controlled each motor with a variety of ingenious switch arrays. Several similar versions of the "Golden Arm" were built. At least one version was wheelchair-mounted and battery-powered. General Teleoperators (Jim Allen, president and principal designer) still offers manipulators descended from this line of evolution.
Extensive clinical trials confirmed the impracticality of joint specific control. These trials confirmed results from the Case group and underlined the need for computer augmention. Moe and Schwartz (1969) computerized the Rancho Arm to provide coordinated joint displacement and proportional control. In 1971, Freedy, Hull and Lyman studied the feasibility of using a computer to adaptively help the user control the manipulator.
These efforts, though, could not overcome limitations inherent in the orthosis. In 1979, Corker et al, evaluated remote medical manipulators. They observed that fitting a manipulator to the specifics of an individual's anatomy and range of motion makes construction and control very difficult. Furthermore, there is no functional reason for the manipulator to carry the user's arm, which has neither grasp nor sensation. In fact, there is a danger of injury because the user's arm could be driven beyond its physiological range without any warning sensation. The orthotic approach is a clear case of anatomical replacement thinking. This line of evolution in rehabilitative telemanipulation is effectively extinct.
As an "evolution of the species" footnote, I should mention that Victor Scheinman and I purchased one of the Rancho orthoses in 1964 for the then-budding robotics project in the Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). We instrumented the arm for joint position feedback and interfaced it to a DEC PDP-10 computer
. Preliminary experience with computer control of that arm helped establish reliability as the most important performance criteria.

Teleoperator arms were required for the Shuttle program. Rancho also developed manipulator arms for NASA, called Rancho Anthropomorphic Manipulator (RAM).

The Tomović Hand / Belgrade Hand

The original hand was the first model of a multifunctional externally powered  and was developed in the Institute ‘Mihailo Pupin’ in Belgrade in 1964. This unique artificial hand was designed by Prof. Rajko Tomović and Prof. Milan Rakić from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Belgrade. In the course of 1966–67 an improved model was developed.

Joshua's broken finger and back-plate broken off after being pushed over and re-rightening itself..

Above: Close-up of Tomovic hand on Minsky's Tentacle Arm.

Joshua is the only robot or robotic-arm where I I've seen a Tomović hand attached to a Rancho "Golden Arm".

I've seen the Tomovic hand attached to Minsky's hydraulic Tentacle arm,

and to the JPL/Ames Teleoperator arm.

Some comments on the Tomovic hand, by George Bekey who was partner in the updated 2nd version.

Interview: USC’s George Bekey on Past and Future Robot Hands
By Jose FermosoEmail AuthorSeptember 26, 2008 |  4:57 pm  

Robotic hands have a hold on our imagination because they give us a tantalizing look at a fully automated future. At the same time, they’re already helping us out with useful and difficult tasks, like making less invasive incisions during surgeries.

The 1980s USC Belgrade hand could not cut a person, but it was instrumental in the history of the development of robot hands. Known for its true anthropomorphic (human-like) design, it had four fingers and an opposable thumb with 5 degrees of freedom and was the first to be able to give a true handshake.

Capable of holding up to 5 lbs., the hand had four motors and 14 force sensors that provided the logarithm [sic – algorithm] of where each finger was located.  This was a key development for all robot hands. Later on, researchers added ‘slippage feedback’ that forced all fingers to adjust to unstable objects for a better grip.

… we got in touch with robotics pioneer George Bekey, the creator of the USC/Belgrade hand (and USC’s current Professor Emeritus of Computer Science) to ask him about the beginning of the robot hand movement and where they’ll go from here (they’re going to classrooms!).

Here’s our interview: You’ve previously mentioned that the USC/Belgrade hand didn’t receive the notoriety it deserved at the time. Why did that happen and what made it stand out in your mind?

Prof. George Bekey: The two leading hands at the time were the Salisbury 3-fingered hand, which came from Ken Salisbury’s lab at MIT, and the 5-fingered Utah-MIT hand. [The former] became a successful commercial product, [and the latter] was the most sophisticated hand developed, also mostly at MIT by John Hollerbach. The National Science Foundation awarded 10 grants of $100,000 to universities for the purchase of this hand.

I was a beginner in robotics when Tomovic and I brought the hand to USC and added sensing and control. [But] I was not able to raise the funds to design and build a more sophisticated and reliable hand.

I did some funding for experiments using the hand as a prosthetic device, but the problems [with our hand] were related to the difficulty of controlling it from the stump of an amputee and the general lack of reliability of the hand itself.  I believe that our control philosophy for using this robotic hand, as a prosthetic device, was excellent.

W: When did the development of the hand begin?

GB: The hand was a joint project between Prof. Rajko Tomovic of the University of Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia and myself. Tomovic developed the original at the end of WWII as a prosthetic device for veterans who had lost their hands in the war. He succeeded in getting funding from the US NIH for the project, but the hand was not successful. It was too complicated, not reliable enough, etc. But the principle of building a hand that could adapt automatically to the shape of an object to be grasped was valid.

W: What were the main challenges that you and your department faced when developing the hand back then? Both technically and within the University structure?

GB: [After Tomovic’s early development] USC got involved and Tomovic and his colleagues had developed a Model 2 hand. [Our contribution] added sensors, motors and computer control. One of our major challenges was that the mechanical structure made in Yugoslavia was not good enough:  It did not have tight tolerances and was not reliable enough.  Also, I was not able to get funding to build a better one.  A small company in Downey, CA built and sold two or three of the hands and we lost a lot of money in the process.

W: Prehension was seen as a key development for the USC/Belgrade Hand. What made it so special?

GB: Other hands at the same time, like the Utah-MIT hand, required a very complex computer control system since each joint of each finger had to be individually controlled.  In our hand, a contact between any finger surface and an object initiated a grasping motion that continued until the pressure on all the fingers was approximately equal.  Thus, the hand was able to adapt to arbitrary shapes without any external control. This was the key development.

W: For years, robot hand development has swayed between a focus on muscular parts and skeletal structures. Where is the focus today? It seems like the question of stability has been minimized (due to stronger materials), but is that right? How will the hands become more precise, faster?

GB: I think the issue in multi-fingered hands is [still]
control, particularly if the hands are anthropomorphic and there is an attempt to imitate human control. Stability and control are interrelated.  Some of the most intriguing hands I know [with innovations in these areas] are the NASA/Robonaut hand, the Shadow hand, and Dean Kamen’s hand.

W: Are true anthropomorphic, 5-digit human-like designs the best way to build a robotic hand or are we limiting ourselves by focusing on our own body? Are more digits the answer? And are there physical materials that will improve the hands dramatically?

GB: I believe that 5-finger hands are particularly important for prosthetic applications, but not for robots. Most robot grasping can be done with 3 finger hands, or with special purpose grippers designed for grasping particular objects.  I did a study once on the advantages of using 5-fingered hands for industrial assembly tasks and came to the conclusion that they created more problems than advantages, due to increased complexity.

[As for the materials], I expect that more fiber composites will be used.

Note: The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have recently created robot ‘sandwich’ wrists and hands using these types of fibers, which increase durability and tolerance.

W: The original tech of the hand has been surpassed now, but could the tech used back then be used in any type of application today, to take into account the high costs you’ve mentioned?

GB: There was a Model 3 hand with 6 motors:  one for each digit and two for the thumb to rotate it into opposition with any of the other fingers. [Today], it may be worth pursuing as a low-cost prosthetic hand.

We have many mobile robots in university and industrial labs that would benefit from having one or two arms and hands, but cost is prohibitive.  An arm-hand system has many degrees of freedom and is difficult to control; it must be reliable.


1969 – Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator (SAM) – Edwin Johnsen (American)

SAM, a mobile manipulator, mimics the movements of an operator stationed at a far-distant control center.

The Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator (SAM) that wears NASA logos was developed under Edwin Johnsen's direction in 1969 by the now defunct Space Nuclear Propulsion division of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Johnsen is credited with introducing the popular term "teleoperator" in 1966 to describe a servo controlled manipulator that is not directly connected to the operator's twin manipulator.

See SAM in this robot documentary 0:03 -> 0:21 secs.

RISE OF THE ROBOTS – George Sullivan 1971

Government scientists representing the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office of the Atomic Energy Commission have taken the basic operational principles of the mobile manipulator and added an extra—long-distance control. The machine they've developed is one of the most exciting advances in teleoperator technology in recent years.
Nicknamed "SAM" ( for Self-propelled Anthropomorphic Manipulator), the unit is composed of two distinct parts. A machine portion features steel arms and hands, very similar to the arms and hands used in handling radioactive materials inside hot cells. These arms and hands, however, are mounted on a steel boom which moves up and down and in a circular pattern to give a wide range of operation. The boom, in turn, is mounted on an open, four-wheeled vehicle about the size of an Army jeep. This "torso" portion of the unit is topped with a small television camera. Its "eye" peers down at whatever the hands grasp. The second portion of the unit is the control station, the command post for the human operator. The control station and the mobile manipulator are linked by a coaxial cable, the same type of insulated conducting tube that is used to transmit television signals from a studio to viewers' homes. The two parts of the system can also be linked by radio control.
The operator wears a jacketlike apparatus called an "exoskeleton" to send commands to SAM's hands and arms. If the operator wants SAM to pick up a stick, he simply reaches down and performs the necessary hand-arm movements. The operator is able to see the stick by means of a television screen in the control center which presents the picture transmitted by SAM's television camera. Scientists plan to "slave" the movements of the television camera to those of the operator's head. The camera will thus become the operator's remote but all-seeing eye.
The first SAM was built at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station located at Jackass Flats, Nevada. It inspects and tests equipment used at radioactive nuclear test sites. It is planned that SAM-type units of the future will be used to defuse and dispose of dangerous bombs, and as search and rescue vehicles in any type of disaster that involves fire or hazardous fumes, not just those caused by nuclear explosion.
Machines such as SAM suggest a wide array of applications. Teleoperators could be put beneath the sea or on a distant planet and be made to perform a variety of chores, all while under the precise command of a human operator housed in the safety of an earthbound control center.

From an overhead view, SAM looks like this.

Using an exoskeleton and guided by what he sees on the television screen, the operator controls SAM with simple arm-hand movements.

It is clear from this image that the anthropomorphic arms are actually Rancho Los Amigos Hospital arms originally designed for disability patients.

Source: Popular Science March 1971

Above: The earlier Ranch Electric Arm.

Orthotic manipulator arms. A man in space is relatively helpless in many respects; to perform useful work, he has to have special tools and some kind of assisting control mechanisms. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has long been interested in perfecting remote manipulators for safely handling radioactive materials from a distance by human operators. These interests coincided with some of NASA's interests, and both groups recognized the significance of advances in externally powered arm braces that had occurred at Rancho. The combined efforts of all three organizations have advanced the sophistication of remote manipulators and of externally powered orthotic manipulators.
Orthotic manipulators resemble the human arm in construction and operation. In medical applications they restore arm function to paralyzed patients, while industrial, scientific, and space uses emphasize "teleoperator" characteristics in a master/slave mode that duplicate human motions at a distance.
NASA and AEC sought Rancho Los Amigos Hospital assistance in improving teleoperators largely because of the hospital staff's success in developing a powered orthosis, the Rancho Electric Arm (REA). Beginning in 1959 with pneumatic (compressed air) power sources,
Rancho investigators determined that a functionally useful arm must have at least seven joints, or degrees of freedom, and they specified optimum alignments, locations, power requirements, angular velocities, and functional ranges of motion. In addition, they ascertained the characteristics and potential of control sites in various types of patients. Intensive analyses of normal arm motions enabled the team to specify operational mechanical configurations to approach as nearly as possible a duplication of normal arm function (see Figure 1).
After four years of work with pneumatic power, it was decided that an earlier consensus in the profession–that electrical power was inferior to pneumatic power (National Research Council, 1961)–was no longer valid enough to preclude new explorations in electric power and control systems. The advantages of pneumatic systems were recognized: weight and cost of actuators were less than for electrical actuators; less noise is generated in the pneumatic system; and complex pneumatically powered orthoses were as much as 30 percent less costly than comparable electrically powered units. However, the advantages of electrical systems were more numerous and compelling. Among these are the greater ease and cheapness of replenishing the power source; greater efficiency of energy storage (by a factor of 10); no need to convert electronic control signals for pneumatic actuators; greater simplicity, versatility, and inexpensiveness of control signal processing units; availability of mass produced, low cost electronic components (versus individually produced costly pneumatic components); availability of a rotary output from an electrical actuator, which meets the need for rotary motion of the dynamic joints of an arm brace without a mechanical conversion of linear to rotary motion; and, very significantly, the ability to use a single energy system to provide ample power for both a wheelchair and an orthosis.
Development of the REA thus proceeded from the broad foundation of successful experience with pneumatically powered orthoses. By early 1965 an operational electric arm had been fitted to a patient for complete testing, evaluation and necessary modifications. Using the current version of the arm, this patient, who became a quadriplegic polio victim in 1954, is now able to perform many ordinary tasks of daily living, including writing, typing at 25 words per minute, and operating a modest telephone answering business.
Under contract to Marshall Space Flight Center, Rancho's orthotic arm expertise has been directed toward development and fabrication of four remote manipulators. A bilateral remote manipulator delivered to Marshall was based on earlier arm designs and incorporated several improvements. Among these were two redesigned joints in the master controller brace and lighter, stronger, and more efficient slave arms (see Figure 2).
A self-propelled anthropomorphic manipulator (SAM) was built for use at the Atomic Energy Commission's Jackass Flats nuclear engine facility. SAM is mounted on a motorized vehicle that is remotely controlled by telemetry as it travels about an area of hazardous radioactivity. The manipulator arms are also remotely controlled to do useful work in the hazardous environment. Finally, the Rancho Anthropomorphic Manipulator (RAM) exists as a demonstration prototype. RAM has the capability of operator-controlled terminal device replacement. It is mounted on a "shoulder" that allows side-to-side and forward-backward movement of four inches in each direction, as well as arm movement within the radius of the arms. Its size and power are much greater than those of the Rancho Electric Arm; RAM can lift and transport a ten-pound weight. Several control systems can be used, including a joystick. Development emphasis has been on a master/slave system with an exoskeleton control apparatus for the operator.
Beyond the immediately useful improvement of teleoperators that enable men to perform work in hostile environments, these research and development activities have enhanced Rancho's expertise in its area of major concern: rehabilitation of the disabled.

2006: Centaur

NASA JSC has developed a series of Centaur rovers to carry the Robonaut upper bodies and other payloads.  Centaur 1 was developed for work with the Robonaut R1B humanoid upper torso in 2006.  Centaur 2 rover was developed in 2010 by the Human Robotics Systems (HRS) Project as part of the Exploration Technology Development and Demonstration Programs, and has now been integrated with the Robonaut R2A torso.  This combination mixes state-of-the-art robotic mobility with the world’s most advanced dexterous manipulation system.   Hybrid rover/arm systems, commonly referred to as mobile manipulation, represent a new domain of robotics research.  Mobile manipulation is an important new Space Technology with multiple applications for improving life here on Earth.  NASA’s new Centaur2/Robonaut2 system is an ideal testbed for this research and positions the agency as the  technological leader.

See other early Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.