The research team trained humans to employ a robotic extra thumb and discovered that they could effectively execute complex and dextrous tasks, including building a tower of blocks, using their double-thumbed hand. As participants continued to train, they remarked on how it increasingly left like just another part of their body.
Called the Third Thumb, the device’s development was part of an award winning graduate project at the Royal College of Art, under the leadership of Designer Dani Clode. The project aimed to change the way we think about prosthetics, from the basics of restoring a lost function to a more modest extension a human capabilities.
“Body augmentation is a growing field aimed at extending our physical abilities, yet we lack a clear understanding of how our brains can adapt to it,” said Makin of the UCL’s institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and lead author of the study. “By studying people using Dani’s cleverly designed Third Thumb, we sought to answer key questions around whether the human brain can support an extra body part, and how the technology might impact our brain.”
Notably, the Third Thumb is completely 3D-printed, which means customization comes easy. It’s worn on the side of the hand, opposite your flesh and blood thumb, in proxy to pinky. The wearer of the Third Thumb can control it via pressure sensors equipped on their feet, below the big toes. Wirelessly connected, the two toe sensors manipulate the motion of the robotic Thumb by instantly reacting to subtle changes in the pressure of toe on sensor.