When it comes to prosthetic technology, its typical application is in helping the disabled become able-bodied once more. But with the exponential march of various informational technologies, from sensors to 3D-printed devices, we’re now beginning to witness a transformation of sorts when it comes to prosthetics and their application. For one student at the Royal College of Art, Dani Clode has devised a wearable prosthetic thumb that sits comfortably alongside your five organic digits, of which can be easily controlled using pressure sensors by your feet.
Known as “The Third Thumb,” this wearable device is nearly all-3D printed, using flexible plastic filament called Ninjaflex. The cover that wraps around the hand is also 3D printed, which attaches to two separate motors via a cable system, allowing the prosthetic thumb to be pulled in various different directions.The motors are activated using pressure sensors that would be embedded in your shoes. As a result, this would allow a more biologically-fluid response system when using the prosthetic thumb.
Clode views this third thumb as part tool and part self-expression, aiming for a new understanding of how prosthetic technology could not only make the disabled able-bodied once more but also transform the able-bodied into enhanced augmentations of their former selves. Thing is, this isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed prosthetic devices be used as augmentations for the able-bodied, nor will it be the last.
Even though Dani Clode’s “Third Thumb” design was merely a project for her graduate work, its real-world application that can be easily mimicked using a 3D printer and minimal engineering skills serves as a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of bio-technology. Five to ten years from now, we’ll begin witnessing even more advanced incarnations of these types of devices, opening up a whole new field and generation of biohackers and body modders as a result.
It’ll likely remain a pursuit among a minority of the global population during this timeframe, but as more of these devices are used to enhance the disabled, the able-bodied population will wish to keep up, rather than falling behind and becoming the new definition of what it means to be “disabled” in the 21st century. This will then drive demand for body augmentations to the mainstream, opening up a whole new era dominated by cyborgs.
“The origin of the word ‘prosthesis’ meant ‘to add, put onto’, so not to fix or replace, but to extend. The Third Thumb is inspired by this word origin, exploring human augmentation and aiming to reframe prosthetics as extensions of the body.”
– Dani Clode
Thirty to fifty years from now, cyborgs will become one of the largest (if not the largest) populations here on Earth. It won’t just be a movement backed by an ideal that the human body is an empty canvas, ready to be enhanced using advanced science and technology; it’ll become a society in and of itself. New forms of culture will arise, laws and governance, all operating under the interests of cyborgs and the technologically-enhanced.
Hopefully, this new society of enhanced and augmented people will be welcomed by everyone else, as opposed to being violently oppressed. But if history has shown us anything, it’s that we humans have an innate fear of that which we do not understand. Perhaps it’ll be different, though. We can only hope.
Photo Credit: Dani Clode (via Dezeen)