Human Brain can adapt an Extra Robotic Body part like a
Credit: Dani Clode

The new study published in Science Robotics claimed that the robotic “third thumb” can change the way your hand is represented in the brain. Experiments with a manipulative third thumb installed on 36 people showed that the brain has an incredible ability to adapt and use new parts of the body, and researchers are still trying to understand this. 

The Third Thumb is an award-winning postgraduate project of the Royal College of Art, London, UK, which aims to reconstruct the traditional view of prosthetics. “The beginning of the project was a way to better understand the feeling of controlling what is attached to me,” explained Third Thumb designer Dani Clode in an email to Gizmodo. “As a prosthetics designer, I want to understand the unique relationship between humans and prosthetics. This is a relationship that is different from any other product, and I want to explore this.” 

In fact, it is an alternative to “normal” humans. Body functions Unlike recovery, the third thumb represents the enhancement of the human body. This is a very supernatural concept, but scientists really don’t know whether the human brain can significantly support another part of the body, or whether it is the long-term consequence of additional cognitive load.

Is the “Third Thumb” Customizable?

A user’s view of the Third Thumb
Credit: Dani Clode

The research team trained humans to use additional robotic thumbs and found that they can effectively perform complex and dexterous tasks with their stepped hands, including building towers of building blocks. As the participants continued to train, they commented on how it feels more and more like a part of the body. The development of the device known as the third thumb was part of an award-winning graduate project at the Royal College of Art under the leadership of designer Dani Clode.

The project aims to change the way we think about prosthetics, from restoring the basis of lost functions to a more moderate expansion of human capabilities. Claude was later invited to join a team of neuroscientists at University College London led by Professor Tamar Makin, who was studying the way the brain adapts to the augmentation body.

Study Of The “Third Thumb” Exhibits Some Facts

The lead author of UCL Cognitive Research, Ma Jin of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in the embargoed version shared with Interesting Engineering, “Enhancing the body is a growing field that aims to expand our physical capabilities, but we are aware of how the brain adapts to it. Lack of clear understanding.” Jin added, “By studying people who use Dani’s cleverly designed third thumb, we sought to answer key questions about whether the human brain can support other parts of the body and how technology affects our brain.”

The Third Thumb being used to hold multiple balls.
Credit: Dani Clode

In particular, the third thumb is completely 3D printed, which means customization is easy. It is worn on one side of the hand, opposite the fleshy and bloody thumb, and represents the little finger. 

The third thumb user can control it with a pressure sensor installed under the big toe of the foot. Through wireless connection, the two-finger sensor manipulates the movement of the manipulator’s thumb by immediately responding to subtle changes in toe pressure on the sensor.

The study involved 20 participants, each of whom received a 5-day training in the use of robotic thumbs. They often took their thumbs home every day for daily household chores tests. In general, the user uses their robotic thumb for 2 to 6 hours a day. This group of robot thumb users was compared to another group of 10 control participants who used a stationary robot thumb while performing the same training task.

Our brain must adapt to the use of robotic prostheses

In daily laboratory meetings, participants focused robotic thumb training on tasks designed to improve the collaboration between their hand and the third thumb, such as grabbing multiple balls or wine glasses with one hand. In this way, participants learned the basic gestures necessary to use the thumb quickly, better motor control, hand-thumb coordination, and agility are directly related to training. Finally, participants used their thumbs when they were distracted, either built a tower with wooden blocks when thinking about math problems or blindfolded. 

Paulina Kieliba of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience said, “One day, in many ways, strengthening the body is of value to society, such as allowing surgeons to work more effectively without assistants or factory workers.” In the embargo statement. “This way of working can completely change the concept of prosthetics and help people who can only use manual hands for any operation permanently or temporarily.” 

A person supporting a coffee cup with the Third Thumb, while stirring a spoon with their natural fingers.
Credit: Dani Clode

Kieliba also said that “To get there, we need to continue to study how these devices interact with each other.” Our brains interact with complex, interdisciplinary issues. The team scanned the participants’ brains with functional MRI before and after training because the user moved his fingers without attaching the third manipulator thumb. Crucially, fMRI detected subtle but substantial changes in the way the hand augmented with the robotic thumb appears in the sensorimotor cortex of the brain.

Our brain represents that each finger’s finger is different from other fingers, and after robotic finger training, the new activity pattern of each finger becomes more similar. Participants dissipated these brain activities after a week, indicating that robotic prostheses would be a short-term solution. 

“Our research is the first to study the use of magnifying glasses outside the laboratory,” Kiliba said in the embargo statement. “This is the first improvement study conducted within days of extended training and the first to be performed by an untrained control group.”

“The success of our study demonstrates the value of close collaboration between neuroscientists and designers and engineers. In order to ensure that the augmented device can function to the greatest extent. Ensure that our brains learn and adapt, and at the same time ensure that the augmented device can be used safely.”

There is no doubt that with the extension and expansion of robotic limbs, the future of human movement will greatly increase. Although our brains have not evolved to use more abilities, after birth, they have the ability to adapt and control future development.

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