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Could JB Hi-Fi’s Next Big Thing Be Robotic Thumbs

Health and wellbeing are booming, despite the downturn, with some now asking whether the likes of JB Hi-Fi could in the future sell a ‘robotic thumb’ for those looking to add a new level of human functionality to their daily lives.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK have created a ‘Third Thumb’ – a controllable prosthetic, which attaches to edge of the right hand and its remarkably effective in letting users pick up objects, unscrew caps on bottles or even peel a banana with one hand.

The study led by researchers at MRC’s Cognition and Brain Science Unit and published in Science Robotics reveals that when tested on humans they quickly discovered that not only did their guinea pig humans like what they could do with their 11th digit, they realised that their new thumb could ‘advance their capabilities beyond current human biological limitations’.

While it’s not at a commercial sale stage, it does appear to have potential in the future.

The concept thumb can be worn on the opposite side of the palm to a person’s real thumb and controlled by a pressure sensor placed under each big toe.

Both toe sensors, which are wirelessly connected to the thumb, control different movements by immediately responding to subtle changes in pressure from the toes.

Although they don’t see a future where humans naturally ‘develop extra thumbs’ due to evolution, their robotic version can make people’s lives easier.

“Our everyday lives are already consumed by wearable technologies, and we are now seeing an increasing number of specifically augmentation technologies be developed,” study author Lucy Dowdall told MailOnline.

“The Third Thumb can be used to extend the function of the hand – so any task requiring carrying multiple objects at a time or stabilising one item whilst performing a task with another.”

Designer Dani Clode, a research technician at UCL’s Plasticity Lab, began developing Third Thumb as part of a graduate project at the Royal College of Art.

In their study, the team tested 596 participants, ranging in age from three to 96 years old, who were given up to a minute to familiarise themselves with the device.

The thumb was provided in different sizes so they could fit the hands of children and adults.

The participants performed two tasks – firstly, picking up pegs and putting them in a basket, and secondly, manipulating and moving five or six different foam objects of various sizes.

Overall, the thumb was successfully worn and controlled by 99.3 per cent of the sample, the researchers found.

And 98 per cent of participants were able to successfully manipulate objects using the Third Thumb during the first minute of use.

As for retail sales this could become a reality in the future.

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