An Extra Thumb to Boost Productivity

Controllable prosthetic extra thumb designed to enhance productivity.

Image credits: Dani Clode

Researchers at Cambridge University have successfully developed a new, controllable prosthetic extra thumb designed to enhance productivity. They say the robotic thumb can help expand the capacity of the human hand, from carrying multiple beverage glasses and shuffling playing cards to performing surgery.

"We are also really excited about potential opportunities of using the thumb to enhance productivity in work settings, especially those that are relying on their hand's manual dexterity in order to accomplish their work,” said Tamar Makin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

“This can be anywhere between manual laborers that are trying to solder a complicated kit or even surgeons that have to negotiate between many instruments at the same time," she added.

Related Smart Prosthetic Lets Man Feel Hot and Cold

A few years ago, a London-based designer named Dani Clode introduced the world to the Third Thumb. A team of neuroscientists working in The Plasticity Lab at University College London saw the Third Thumb on the news and immediately contacted Clode. They were studying how the human brain adapts to operate augmentative technology, and the Third Thumb was a perfect device to incorporate into their research.

In 2022, the third thumb was showcased at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition where nearly 600 members of the public tested the device.

The results, published in Science Robotics, showed that “98 per cent of participants were able to successfully manipulate objects using the extra thumb during the first minute of use, with no significant influences of gender, handedness, or affinity for hobbies involving the hands”.

According to the study team, a pressure sensor positioned beneath each big toe or foot controls the third thumb.

The third thumb is pulled across the hand by the pressure on the right toe, and the thumb is pulled up toward the fingers by the pressure on the left toe.

The pressure exerted determines how far the third thumb can move.

Researchers hope that with further testing, the third thumb could redefine human capabilities.

Sam Draper
June 10, 2024

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