Revolutionary Robot Thumb Enhances Human Grip Strength

A groundbreaking development at the University of Cambridge has led to the creation of a robotic thumb that significantly improves human gripping capabilities. This innovative technology allows individuals to handle larger and more intricate objects with ease, eliminating the need for two-handed tasks as the thumb can be controlled by a single hand.

The robotic thumb, featured in the study “Evaluating initial usability of a hand augmentation device across a large and diverse sample” published in Science Robotics, is attached to the human hand next to the little finger. Crafted using parts from a 3D printer, the artificial thumb is operated by an electric motor through a cable and consists of three movable joints.

Control of the second thumb is facilitated by the wearer’s left and right toes, each equipped with a pressure sensor. Pressure from the right big toe triggers the thumb to move across the hand, while pressure from the left toe directs the thumb upwards towards the fingers. The precision of movement is dependent on the amount of pressure applied, with the thumb returning to its original position once the pressure is released.

The efficacy of the robotic thumb was tested on 596 individuals spanning from 3 to 96 years old over a five-day period. Children were provided with a scaled-down version suited to their hand size. Four participants encountered difficulties controlling the thumb, mainly due to inadequate strapping or sensor sensitivity issues, particularly affecting lightweight children.

During the trial, subjects were given one minute to acquaint themselves with the robotic thumb on their right hand while receiving instructions on the tasks to be performed. The first task involved transferring pins from a pegboard to a basket within 60 seconds, a feat accomplished by 333 participants. In the second task, individuals utilized the robotic thumb in conjunction with their hand to manipulate foam objects of varying shapes, successfully placing them in a basket within the given time frame, as achieved by 246 participants.

Notably, the study revealed that skill levels, gender, and handedness did not impact task performance. However, older adults exhibited greater difficulty with the robotic thumb due to age-related declines in sensorimotor and cognitive functions. Younger children also faced challenges, with a higher number failing to complete the tasks compared to older participants.

The researchers emphasized the necessity of considering various factors such as age, weight, lifestyle, physical limitations, cultural background, and technological acceptance when implementing this technology. While the results offer valuable insights, further extensive research is vital to accurately assess the full potential of this revolutionary advancement.