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Real-life 'Doc Ock' arm learns like a baby

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A German engineering company has programmed a dangling robot arm to learn movements and actions in the same way human babies do. The arm, which was designed to be as dexterous as an elephant's trunk, can be taught to reproduce certain positions on command through a process known as "goal babbling," in which the robot remembers small changes in the pressure of its pneumatic "muscles." New Scientist says this approach is similar to the way human babies learn to interact with the world through a process of trial and error.

The robot was originally built by engineering firm Festo in 2010, but wasn't capable at the time of precise movements without specific programming. The arm's new abilities mean the layman can teach it new tricks: the first time the robot is forced into position, it resists; the second time, it apparently moves easily, thanks to its new artificial muscle memory. New Scientist says the robot can now be quickly trained to pick up a range of items — "anything from light bulbs to hazelnuts."