People can get an extra arm, wings and tentacles: what scientists are up to

Yulia PoteriankoLife
An additional thumb and a prosthetic hand that can be controlled by the power of thought are already being actively tested

The appearance of an extra arm, wings or tentacles in humans seems to us to be something incredible. However, scientists are already working on it. They are creating intelligent implants and body parts that can expand our capabilities.

According to Mail Online, the first such prototype was the Third Thumb, a device that is attached to the dominant hand and adds a mechanical finger opposite the thumb. It is controlled by foot movements. This makes it possible, for example, to unscrew a bottle cap, peel a banana, or even thread a needle with one hand.

Tamar Makin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, who was involved in the development of the Third Thumb device, said that the ability of the brains of people who tested it was extraordinary. But the issue of adapting to additional body parts is still quite complex.

When a person gets used to a prosthesis, it is a one-level task, but the need to master a whole new limb is much broader. "We are worried about what we call the problem of redistribution of resources - what if I steal the resources of my legs to give them to my arms?" the scientist asks.

Professor Makin also said that from a technical point of view, there is now enough technology to create wings or tentacles for human use. But the problem is scaling up their use. "There are technological problems that need to be solved. For example, you want them to be wearable and comfortable, but at the same time, they shouldn't be heavy and dependent on a power outlet," she explained.

The key issue for developers now is control. Makin cited wings as an example. They are quite simple to control - they move only up and down. When it comes to tentacles, for example, the issue becomes much more complex. After all, controlling the movements needed to reach a cup on a table will require so much control that simply getting up from a chair can become problematic.

However, Mackin's colleague on the Third Thumb project, Denis Claude, said that the 20 participants in the 5 days of testing the device were very successful in using it. "The Third Thumb" is controlled by wirelessly connected pressure sensors attached to the big toes. The subjects used it to lift several tennis balls or wine glasses with one hand. They quickly mastered the basics of the device and could use it while distracted or blindfolded. Over time, they increasingly felt the device as part of their body.

Before and after the mechanical finger trial, the researchers scanned the participants' brains. They found subtle but important changes in the organisation of the neural circuits involved in the work of the hands. "Evolution has not prepared us to use an additional body part, and we have found that in order to extend our abilities in new and unexpected ways, the brain needs to adapt the representation of the biological body," explained Professor Makin.

Meanwhile, Claude spoke about the Vine 2.0 project. It is a robotic tentacle that acts as a prosthetic arm. It has 26 vertebrae-like parts that the user controls with the help of pressure sensors and electronics in shoes.

At the same time, Silvestro Micher from the Santa Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa said that he is developing a prototype of a third arm. It is attached to the body around the waist and can be controlled by breathing.

And in Sweden, three amputees are already testing a system of implants that allows them to use a bionic arm attached to it, controlling it with the power of thought. Two of them have been wearing the latest invention for about three years, and one has been using a smart prosthesis for seven years. Now they are trying to add a sense of touch to their devices.

Dr Max Ortiz Catalan from Chalmers University of Technology hopes that this technology can be extended to Europe. The results already show that people can control the bionic arm for a long time without the help of scientists.

The researchers who developed the breakthrough system hope to put it into regular production in two years. The system is currently undergoing European certification.

Scientists are expected to discuss their achievements in the field of body empowerment at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.


Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that scientists are thinking about the likelihood of sex in space during long flights.

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