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Robotic ‘Third Thumb’ Tests Show Promising Results Across Ages

Daniel Kim Views  

Imagine how much easier daily life might be if you had two thumbs on one hand. You could peel a banana or open a plastic bottle cap with ease. A research team in the UK has turned this fantasy into reality by creating a robotic third thumb.

A research team from the MRC Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK, published the results of their experiment with the wearable robotic third thumb, conducted on untrained individuals, in the international academic journal Science Robotics on May 29th.

The Third Thumb was a wearable robot unveiled in 2021 by MRC chief designer Danny Clode. Designed for amputees who manage daily life with only one arm, it is attached to the blade of the hand like a prosthetic hand and functions as an additional thumb, as its name suggests.

At its unveiling, the Third Thumb drew attention because, aside from simply grasping objects more with one hand, it was possible to do elaborate work such as threading a needle, holding a nail while hammering, or holding paint and a brush with one hand.

Operating the device is simple. The wearable robot is worn like a watch on the wrist, and the tension and intensity are adjusted using a wireless pressure sensor worn on the foot. Pressing quickly with the right foot pulls the device towards the palm, and applying pressure with the left foot moves the thumb upwards. The harder you press with your foot, the tighter the grip.

To confirm market potential, the research team tested the Third Thumb on 596 participants of various ages (3 to 96) and nationalities over five days in 2022.

The team examined whether participants wearing the Third Thumb fitted to their hand size could complete two tasks each within a minute. The first task involved moving as many pegs as possible from one basket to another, and the second task required participants to use their hands along with the Third Thumb to move 5-6 rubber models. 333 participants completed the first task, and 246 completed the second one simultaneously.

98% of participants were able to use the device immediately. Only 13 people, six under 10 years old, failed to operate it. Notably, four failed because the device did not fit their hands properly or their body weight was too low for the pressure sensor to work. 

The research team explained that the participants who struggled to operate the device likely did so because of generally poor cognitive abilities, which they attributed to the participants being either too young or too old.

Lucy Dowdall, a co-author of the paper, said, “The current study was geared towards demonstrating the feasibility of our technology – we showed that pretty much anyone who wants to use the thumb can, and can figure out how to use it very quickly.” “Our focus remains refining the technology and ensuring it meets the highest standards of functionality, safety, and user adaptability, as well as using it as a model to explore augmentation in the neuroscience research space,” she added.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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