Pianists learn to play with extra robotic thumb

This pianist can play with an extra robotic thumb

London researchers strapped a robotic third thumb

to the right hand of 12 people

to test how their brains would cope with the new digit

(SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR ALDO FAISAL, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON SAYING: "It came out of my own passion for piano that I wondered what happens if I have an extra finger? So it started really with a robotics challenge. Can we build a robotic thumb that can sit on the opposite side of the right hand and play music with it? Can we actually just do it, can we learn to do that and if you then do it do you just use your forefingers and extra thumb and, so to speak, abandon the natural thumb or can you also use always all six fingers for that?"

The robotic thumb is controlled by electrical signals

generated when the pianist moves their foot

(SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR ALDO FAISAL, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON SAYING:"Once you play with that at the start it feels maybe a bit more like a tool that is attached to you like you're holding a drumstick or something like that in your hand and tapping on something but then it becomes a bit more mushy whether it's you or if it's the tool or not and it becomes something very natural but it's still dangling off and it looks completely artificial and the motors make whirring noises when you move it quickly but after an hour or two it just feels like an extension of you to a certain extent."

The experiment found that all subjects adapted quickly

within an hour of being fitted with the extra thumb

regardless of their playing ability

(SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR ALDO FAISAL, IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON SAYING: "The question really becomes are you processing it the same way as you're processing a regular limb? Or are you using new areas, or higher areas of the brain that actually do a deal with the fine brain movements of the fingers. It's a very exciting moment in time now to see what we can do."

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