Wearable robotic fingers are now a reality

You know how people joke about needing an extra set of hands to get everything done? Well, that’s not on the horizon quite yet, but researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have just invented a pair of wearable robotic fingers.

Graduate student Faye Wu unveiled details of the device this week at the Robotics: Science and Systems conference in California. It’s a robotic extension to the human hand consisting of two extra fingers, one by the thumb, the other next to the little finger. It’s attached to the wrist and designed to move in sync with the user’s actual fingers, controlled by sensors attached to the top of the hand which should make it intuitive to use.

The robotic fingers are stronger and longer (and, unless you’re a Snooki-alike, more orange) than human fingers, meaning they can bear the load of heavier objects and allow people to perform actions with one hand that would normally take two, like opening a letter or a bottle. They can also grasp onto things and be used to carry items that are too hot or cold for human fingers to touch.

It’s just a prototype at present, but, for now, the sensors are attached to a glove and it’s all too big and bulky to be practical. In future, however, it could have practical applications for elderly and disabled people, as well as people in the military and medical fields.

‘We’re still exploring the kind of tasks it could be used for,’ says Professor Harry Asada from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in a video, which shows the ‘fingers’ in action.

Future research will be focused on making the sensors’ capacity more sophisticated, so that the device can exert different forces depending on the weight and texture of objects. The engineers will also work to make it portable, perhaps even adapting it into an everyday wearable device that expands easily and is comfortable to wear, Professor Asada told the BBC.

Diane Shipley