Could you use an extra hand?
Somebody may have said to you at sometime: “I’ve only got two hands,” indicating that whatever you asked them to do just isn’t possible. But in the field of prosthetics and what are called “enhanced humans” it may well be possible now to have additional limbs to carry out tasks.
We have devices that wearers can control with their thoughts — these help people with prosthetic limbs to feel more whole, but now researchers are setting out to see if such devices could make humans more than whole.
Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan wanted to know if giving someone a supernumerary robotic limb (SRL), a mind-controlled robotic limb that worked alongside the person’s two biological ones, could give that person multitasking abilities beyond those of the average human.
The researchers asked 15 volunteers to sit in a chair with an SRL positioned as if it were a third arm coming from their own body. Each volunteer wore a cap that that tracked the brain’s electrical activity and the cap transmitted this activity to a computer that then turned it into movement in the SRL. All the volunteers had to do to get the SRL to work was think about what they wanted it to do.
The next stage was to ask the volunteers to complete two tasks. The first one — balancing a ball on a board –they did using their natural arms and hands. The second one — picking up and putting down a bottle –they did using the SRL. They then asked the volunteers to do both the tasks separately and simultaneously.
The results of 20 trials showed that the volunteers were able to complete both tasks successfully using the three limbs about 75 percent of the time. What this means is that they were able to complete two tasks simultaneously that they couldn’t have done if they had been limited to using their natural limbs.
The researchers also think that by operating this brain-machine interface, we have an idea that we may be able to train the brain itself and their future research will try to establish if we might be able to enhance our minds by temporarily enhancing our bodies.