This robotic extra thumb could be manipulated by moving your toes

For five days, participants were encouraged to utilize the thumb both in laboratory settings and in the wider world. “Among the goals of the training was to push the participants in what was possible and train them in unique new means of handling objects,” says Clode.

The excess thumb could cradle a sit down elsewhere as the same hand’s forefingers held a spoon to stir in milk, for example, while some participants used the thumb to search pages of a book these were holding in the same hand. The common user wore the thumb for just under 3 hours a day.

Read more: Robot hand that plays Jingle Bells may help us make smarter limbs

To understand how the extra thumb afflicted people’s brains, the researchers gave them an MRI scan before and after the experiment.

“Technology is advancing, but no person is talking about whether our brain can handle that,” says team member Paulina Kieliba, also at UCL.

“In our augmented population, on the proper hand, the representation of individual fingers collapsed on one another,” says Kieliba – meaning the mind perceived each finger as more similar to the other person than it did prior to the experiment. Seven days later, 12 of the participants returned for a third brain scan, where in fact the effect of the mind changes had begun to wear off.

Jonathan Aitken at the University of Sheffield, UK, is surprised at how quickly participants adapted to the thumb. “The incorporation of this unfamiliar tool – and the one which requires operation by the toes to regulate action – and the rapid speed of learning is quite interesting,” he says.

Journal reference: Science Robotics , DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abd7935

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For five days, participants were encouraged to utilize the thumb both in laboratory settings and in the wider world. “Among the goals of the training was to push the participants in what was possible and train them in unique new means of handling objects,” says Clode. The excess thumb could cradle a sit down elsewhere…

For five days, participants were encouraged to utilize the thumb both in laboratory settings and in the wider world. “Among the goals of the training was to push the participants in what was possible and train them in unique new means of handling objects,” says Clode. The excess thumb could cradle a sit down elsewhere…

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