Is augmenting human bodies with robotic parts something we can look forward to? Scientists in a new piece from The Guardian seem to think so.
"If you want an extra arm while you're cooking in the kitchen so you can stir the soup while chopping the vegetables, you might have the option to wear and independently control an extra robotic arm," Tamar Makin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cambridge University, told the newspaper.
An existing example of this technology unlocking the human body's potential to wrangle tasks too daunting for the merely four-limbed and twenty-digited human? An extra thumb.
Designed by Dani Clode, a researcher at Cambridge's Plasticity Lab, "The Third Thumb" is a nifty little 3D-printed device that can apparently be used to augment any hand.
In decidedly British fashion, one example provided is the third thumb being used to grasp a dainty cup of tea, freeing up the real thumb and fingers to stir it with a spoon at the same time. But far less trivial and more weighty potential applications are aplenty, too.
"We spoke with a surgeon [who] was really interested in holding his camera whilst he's doing shoulder surgery, rather than his assistant holding his camera," Clode said.
"He wanted to be in full control of the tools that he's using with the two hands whilst also holding that camera and being able to manipulate that as well."
The point of augmentation isn't necessarily just adding extra body parts for the hell of it, in other words, but to offer an avenue of empowerment for those who need extra functionality or who have certain disabilities.
"If you're missing a limb, instead of trying to replace that limb, why don't we augment your intact hand to allow you to do more with it?" Clode said.
Augmenting an existing, functional limb could prove easier than replacing an entire, missing one, they say. Furthermore, robotic prosthetic limbs can require invasive, expensive, and potentially taxing surgery to install brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that are used to control them.
That's why with the Third Thumb, Clode insisted on it being wirelessly controlled by pressure sensors underneath your big toes, rather than using brain implants.
And Makin backs up Clode's approach, claiming this form of control is far more intuitive than BCIs, too.
"[Of around] 600 people between the age of three and 97, 98% could use it within the first minute, meaning... they could already move objects around as instructed," Makin said. "I can't imagine a brain chip that can do that."
More on body augmentation: Scientists Working on Third Arm You Control Using Your Brain
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