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What Would You Do With an Extra Thumb, Human?

Our opposable thumbs are what make us the dominant primates we are. And if two thumbs helped us climb to the top of the evolutionary ladder, what else would we be able to accomplish with even an extra thumb?
Robotic Third Thumb 5 photos
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A thorough research carried out by the University College London (UCL) in collaboration with Dani Clode Design, wanted to see if our brain can support body augmentation using a robotic finger. That’s where the Third Thumb came in. The Third Thumb is a flexible 3D-printed thumb extension that is controlled wirelessly via two pressure-sensitive sensors attached to the big toes. It was created by the designer Dani Clode and now used by scientists at the UCL to find out how body augmentation is perceived by the human brain.

Researchers tested the Third Thumb over a period of five days in which participants in the study learn to use the appendage for various tasks involving grabbing objects, holding a mug, and more complex activities as well. They all managed to master using the thumb very quickly and, most importantly, started to experiment a sense of embodiment, meaning the thumb started to feel like a natural part of their body.

The study revealed that the participants started to change the way they were using their other fingers, even when the robotic thumb wasn’t attached to their hand. After wearing the device for a longer period, the brain started to perceive the other fingers in a different manner and change their natural movements.

The research concludes that our brain is capable of quickly adapting to a body augmentation device and integrate it as a natural part of the body. Scientists want to run more tests to gather more valuable information, but they hope this discovery can lead to a really smooth human-robot integration that can change the way we approach prosthetics.


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