Dani Clode Third Thumb
Superhuman Grip for Amputees: Third Thumb Prosthetic Boosts One-Handed Tasks. YouTube Screenshot / Cambridge University

With ten digits serving us well for millions of years, scientists at the University of Cambridge ask: Is it enough?

The university researchers, led by Professor Tamar Makin of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, believe we could do more and collaborated with Dani Clode to create the "Third Thumb."

This controllable prosthetic, the Third Thumb, attaches to the right hand, granting wearers the ability to perform a slew of one-handed tasks such as grasping objects, opening bottles, sorting cards, and even peeling a banana.

The 'Third Thumb': Redefining Human Capabilities

But is there really a need for a "Third Thumb"? This wearable technology holds particular promise for those with disabilities. It empowers them to tackle complex tasks independently, eliminating the need to rely on assistance.

Professor Makin suggests technology is redefining what it means to be human. As machines seamlessly integrate into our lives, the line between humans and technology blurs, potentially extending to our minds and bodies.

"These technologies open up exciting new opportunities that can benefit society, but it's vital that we consider how they can help all people equally, especially marginalised communities who are often excluded from innovation research and development," Makin added.

Professor Makin's statement highlights the importance of considering inclusivity throughout the research and development. She noted that society can ensure that everyone can participate in and benefit from technological advancements by explicitly integrating and measuring inclusivity from the beginning.

How does it work? Someone slips on the Third Thumb and wears it on the opposite side of the hand from their natural thumb. And discreetly placed under their big toes, are pressure sensors that control this robotic marvel.

The statement explains that users control the Third Thumb with their toes. Pressure from the right toe moves the thumb across the hand, while pressure from the left toe positions it closer to the fingers. This intuitive toe control allows for precise manipulation of the thumb.

Wearable Tech Transforming Healthcare and Beyond

A trial was conducted at the 2022 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition to assess user experience. Five hundred ninety-six participants, from ages 3 to 96 and from diverse backgrounds, were invited to interact with the Third Thumb.

Participants were given a minute to get acquainted with the Third Thumb before tackling tasks like object manipulation. Impressively, the vast majority of participants mastered the device within a minute, showcasing its intuitive design and ease of use.

The study published on Science Robotics included two tasks. In the first, participants used the Third Thumb to pick up pegs one by one from a pegboard and place them in a basket. In this peg-picking challenge, participants raced against the clock to transfer as many pegs as possible from a pegboard to a basket within 60 seconds. A total of 333 participants took on this task.

The second task involved manipulating and moving five to six foam objects of varying sizes and shapes within 60 seconds. This required participants to showcase their talent by employing different manipulation techniques. A total of 246 participants completed this challenge.

The study found remarkable ease of use. Nearly everyone (98%) successfully manipulated objects with the Third Thumb within the first minute, with only a small number (13) encountering difficulties.

In Dani's view, augmentation isn't just about creating tools. It's about forging a new connection with technology, where it seamlessly integrates with our bodies and becomes an extension of ourselves.

The study pointed out that wearable technology empowers consumers to tackle tasks that once seemed tricky, challenging, or even impossible, all with a simple device. This technology extends its reach beyond convenience, even revolutionising disease monitoring. For instance, UK scientists are pioneering a wearable device that fits discreetly within a bra, enabling real-time tumour detection.

This philosophy aligns with the efforts of a Guadalajara, Mexico-based laboratory. They've streamlined the IVF process by harnessing AI and robotics, already helping 11 women achieve pregnancy.