The future that works like manganime Ghost in the shell or video game Cyberpunk 2077 they pose is that of a humanity absorbed in technology – but not literally like in The Matrix. So much so that even people undergo augmentation, to be operated on to improve their abilities using artificial parts – an arm, an eye, the brain – that “ raise ” them above the rest of human beings and turn them into “ cyborgs ” themselves.
The truth is that there are already people who have had surgery for this purpose, although at the moment it is an almost anecdotal figure. For this reason, the era of the cyborg as such is still far away, in the long term future, but that does not mean that it cannot be studied and studied in the field. Not drastic things like a brain change, or parts of a human brain in a robotic body, but small additions like this, for example: A robotic sixth finger.
Six fingers on each hand
With our hands we can grab things, carry, hold, lift, touch, stroke, walk away, etc. But,if instead of 5 fingers we had 6, we could do things more efficiently? Would it affect and leave permanent or reversible changes in our brain? This is what a group of experts from UCL, London’s leading multidisciplinary university, they wondered and they tried to answer through a study.
The team trained people to use an additional robotic thumb and found that they could effectively perform dexterity tasks such as building a tower of blocks, with just one hand (6 fingers). Researchers report in the journal Science Robotics that participants trained in the use of the thumb also felt it more and more as part of their body.
The third inch
Designer Dani Clode began developing the device, called Third Thumb, several years ago as part of an award-winning graduate project at the Royal College of Art, with which she sought to rethink the vision of the prosthesis, moving from replacing a lost function to being an extension of the human body. She was then invited to join Professor Tamar Makin’s team of neuroscientists at UCL, who were studying how the brain can adapt to the increase in the body.
Professor Makin (of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL), lead author of the study, noted that âBody augmentation is a booming field aimed at expanding our physical capabilities, but we still don’t quite understand how our brains can adapt to it. By studying people using Dani’s ingeniously designed third thumb, we tried to answer key questions about the human brain’s ability to support additional body part, and how technology might affect our brains. “
The third inch is 3D printed, which makes it easy to customize, and is worn on the side of the hand opposite the user’s actual thumb, near the little finger. The user control with pressure sensors placed on your feet, at the bottom of the big toes. Wirelessly connected to the Thumb, the two-finger sensors control the various Thumb movements, immediately responding to subtle changes in user pressure.
One more finger of the hand
For the study, 20 participants were trained in the use of the robotic thumb for 5 days, during which they were also encouraged to bring the extra finger home each day after training for use in everyday situations, for a total of two to six hours of use per day. These participants were compared to an additional group of 10 control participants who wore a static version of the thumb while taking the same training.
During daily sessions in the laboratory, the participants were trained in the use of the robotic finger by focusing on tasks that would increase the cooperation between their hand and their thumb, like picking up several scoops or wine glasses with one hand. They learned the basics of using the artificial thumb very quickly, while the training successfully improved their motor control, dexterity and hand-thumb coordination.
Test subjects were even able to “use Thumb when you are distracted “ -building a tower of wooden blocks while doing a math problem- or when they were blindfolded
Changes in the brain
Before and after training, the researchers scanned the participants’ brains using fMRI, while they moved the fingers individually (they did not wear the thumb when they were in the scanner). And they discovered “subtle but significant changes in the way the hand that had been raised “ with the third inch. Changes represented in the sensorimotor cortex of the brain.
In our brain, each finger is represented differently from the others; Among study participants, the brain activity pattern of each finger became more similar (less different). A week later, some of the participants were reanalyzed and the changes in the brain area of ââthe hand subsided, suggesting that the changes might not be long term, although “sWe need more research to confirm“.
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