June 19, 2024

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University of Cambridge: They built a ‘third thumb’ – see how it works [βίντεο]

University of Cambridge: They built a ‘third thumb’ – see how it works [βίντεο]

Have you ever wanted to peel a banana with one hand? Or maybe flip through the pages of a novel while sipping a cup of tea?

An artificial thumb that can be used with other fingers to help pick up and manipulate objects has been tested by the University of Cambridge.

The thumb was invented by designer Dani Claude while she was studying at the Royal College of Art.

The robotic part, called the “third thumb,” is attached to the opposite side of the palm from the actual thumb and is controlled by a pressure sensor located underneath the feet.

A quick tap of the right foot pulls the robotic thumb along the hand, while pressure from the left foot moves it toward the fingers. Increasing the applied pressure increases grip strength.

Professor Tamar Makin, from the council, said: ‘The third thumb is often more useful in your daily life when you’re holding on to a lot of things while trying to carry out a task and you think you just need two extra hands.’ The Medical Cognitive and Brain Sciences Research Unit (MRC) in Cambridge.

“For example, if you are trying to hold your dog’s leash while also holding a cup of coffee and your phone and at the same time trying to get your keys out of your pocket.

“It’s these types of everyday scenarios where having a third thumb available to help you carry one of these items is a huge help.”

Footage released by the university shows her using her thumb to open a bottle on her own, holding an egg while breaking another into a bowl, and holding wine glasses and a bottle with one hand.

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The team also believes it will be invaluable for difficult manual tasks such as welding or performing surgical procedures.

In a new test, 596 audience members of various ages and genders were asked to test the robotic thumb by either moving pegs in a basket or handling foam objects.

Almost everyone was able to use the device immediately, and 98% of participants were able to successfully manipulate objects using their thumb within the first minute of use.

Only four people were unable to operate the prosthetic thumb, either because it did not fit or because it was too light to activate the foot sensors.

Older and younger adults had a similar level of skill when using technology, although a decline in older adults’ performance was observed.

Kinetic augmentation is a growing field that aims to use exoskeletons or robotic parts to enable humans to overcome biological limitations such as strength, speed, or dexterity.

Proof of applicability

In addition to improving the quality of life of healthy people who want to increase their productivity, the same technologies are also expected to provide crucial assistance to people with disabilities.

The thumb is an obvious choice, as the evolution of the opposable thumb allowed our ancestors to manipulate stone and wood into tools, contributing to the spread of the species.

Cambridge said it is still in the research and design phase, but hopes to bring the thumb to market eventually.

Lucy Dowdall, from the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the MRC, said: “The current study aimed to show the feasibility of our technology – we have shown that almost anyone who wants to use their thumb can, and can figure out how to use it.” Very fast.

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“This level of evidence goes a long way towards commercialization, but we’re not there yet. We are currently in the R&D phase with a working prototype that has been extensively tested.

“Our focus remains on improving the technology and ensuring it meets the highest standards of functionality, security and user adaptability, as well as using it as a model for exploring augmentation in neuroscience research.”

Test results have been published In the Journal of Robotics.

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