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Robotic hand assistant gives you two extra fingers

MIT researchers have developed a cyborg-like hand assistant that attaches robotic fingers to your wrist, giving new meaning to the term "magic fingers."

These robo-fingers will give you a hand. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

If you have ever looked down at your hand and thought, "Well, that's just inadequate. What I really need are two extra fingers," then you're not alone. Researchers from MIT had the same thought. The difference between them and you is that they then went and made a robotic device to provide those extra fingers.

The device is called "supernumerary robotic fingers" and it adds robo-digits on either side of your hand. It's worn around the wrist and reacts to the normal movements of your hands as you wear a special sensor glove. Closing your fingers causes the robotic fingers to close as well. The fingers are large on purpose to provide an extended reach and to hold big objects securely.

"You do not need to command the robot, but simply move your fingers naturally. Then the robotic fingers react and assist your fingers," says Harry Asada, the mechanical engineering professor at MIT who developed the project along with graduate student Faye Wu.

The researchers hope a robotic hand assistant like this could be useful for people with disabilities. It allows the wearer to perform many actions that would normally be difficult with just one hand, like taking the lids off jars or opening plastic containers.

The robotic fingers have been taught to grasp objects in the proper position, so Wu's next focus for development is to program the fingers to apply the proper amount of force for objects of varying weights. "With an object that looks small but is heavy, or is slippery, the posture would be the same, but the force would be different, so how would it adapt to that? That's the next thing we'll look at," she says.

MIT has been on a roll with robotics projects that extend what the human body is capable of. The supernumerary robotic fingers would pair nicely with the institute's shoulder-mounted, Doc Ock-style robot arms.