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Grab the third thumb

Grab the third thumb

 


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By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter

Thursday, May 30, 2024 (HealthDay News)

A robotic prosthetic hand called a “third thumb” is easier to use and can help people grab and carry more objects, according to a new study.

Hundreds of diverse test subjects at a science fair quickly came to understand the extra thumb and were able to use it to pick up items like pegs and Styrofoam objects, the researchers reported May 29 in the journal Science Robotics.

“Technology is changing our very definition of what it means to be human, with machines becoming increasingly part of our daily lives, and even our minds and bodies,” said Tamar Makin, professor and researcher at the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge.

According to researchers, one emerging technology area is motor augmentation, which involves using wearable devices as robotic body parts to improve human motor function beyond its current limits.

The base of the thumb is placed just below the pinky finger and secured in place with a wrist strap.

The device works by using pressure sensors under the big toes of both feet, the right big toe pulling it over the hand in a gripping motion, and the left big toe pulling firmly upward against the natural digits, the researchers explain.

The device is intended to increase the wearer's range of motion, improve their ability to grasp larger objects and expand the hand's carrying capacity, the researchers said.

They road-tested the Third Thumb during the Royal Society Summer Scientific Expedition 2022, in which 596 people aged between 3 and 96 were fitted with the thumb and performed several manual tasks.

About 98 percent of participants were able to use the third thumb to manipulate objects after wearing it for about a minute, the researchers said.

Subjects were given two one-minute tasks to test how useful their third thumb would be.

Approximately 333 participants completed the task of picking up pegs from a pegboard and placing them in a basket using only their thumbs.

Approximately 246 subjects used their third thumb and the rest of their hand to manipulate or move up to six foam objects of different shapes.

The researchers noted that while men and women's third thumb joints functioned roughly the same, older people showed a decline in performance, and children and teenagers also struggled to use their thumbs.

There was no evidence that people who are considered “dexterous” because they play musical instruments or do jobs that require manual dexterity, for example, use their thumbs better than other people.

These results will help researchers adapt the third thumb to apply it to a larger population of people.

“Given the diversity of our bodies, it's important that the design phase of wearable technology is as inclusive as possible,” says Dani Claude, the researcher who developed Third Thumb at the University of Cambridge.

“It's equally important that these devices are accessible and functional for a wide range of users,” Clode added in a university news release. “Furthermore, they must be easy for people to learn and use right away.”

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Source: University of Cambridge, news release, May 29, 2024

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