Engineers Produce a Rocket-Powered Human Arm

"I can control it well enough that I can lift a heavy weight with it [up to 25 pounds,] but I can also screw in a light bulb," Goldfarb said. "I can do delicate things with it."

The power source is hydrogen peroxide, which burns when it comes into contact with a catalyst, producing pure steam. The steam is then used to open and close various valves, causing the arm to respond to commands. The power source is about half the size of a small pencil, and a tiny sealed cylinder of hydrogen peroxide can power the arm for up to 18 hours.

The chemical reaction produces heat — up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit — which is vented through a system that mimics normal sweat. Goldfarb said you could hold your hand in front of the vent and barely feel the warmth.

So how soon are we going to see this technology in the marketplace? Goldfarb releases a deep sigh at that question, because the road from the lab to the market can be very long and bumpy.

There's such a thing as cost, probably high at this point due largely to the very precise engineering to produce the equipment. But the age of robotics is upon us, and systems like Goldfarb's will probably have a place.

However, don't expect anything soon like you see in the movies.

"People really misunderstand where robotics is at right now," Goldfarb said. "They see these animated robots in the movies that have superhuman capabilities. The reality is just the opposite. Robots are much heavier and weaker than any biological system."

So if some day soon you find yourself being chased by an evil robot and you want to escape, Goldfarb offers this advice.

"Walk just a little bit faster."

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