Dani Clode, a graduate student at the Royal College of Art in London, created The Third Thumb, a wearable device that can help its user carry more objects, squeeze lemons or play complex chords on the guitar.
The project investigates the relationship between the body and prosthetic technology in new ways. It is part tool, part experience, and part self-expression; a model by which we better understand human response to artificial extensions. It instigates necessary conversation about the definition of ‘ability’.
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.
The human thumb has a really dynamic movement, the opposing movements working together make the thumb more functional than a single finger. The Third Thumb replicates these movements by using two motors pulling against the natural tension of a flexible 3d printed material. The motors are controlled by two pressure sensors retrofitted into your shoes, under your toes, and communicate to the thumb via Bluetooth connection. The foot control is inspired by products that help to develop the already strong connection between our hands and our feet. For example driving a car, using a sewing machine, or playing a piano.
The base working model design of the Third Thumb is made of three main 3d printed parts. The structural cover for the hand and wrist cover for the motors are both 3d printed in the rigid, smooth formlabs grey resin. The main part, the thumb is live-hinge based design, 3d printed out of the tough, 85a shore flexible filament, Ninjaflex. These parts are all connected via a bowden cable system, similar to a bike brake, made of teflon tubing and wire. 3d printing is perfect medium for this project, as it enables quick prototyping, customised designs for various hand sizes and one-off production.
The current Third Thumb design as a starting base for a lot of future adaption of aesthetic. The value of the Third Thumb is to create a catalyst for society to consider human extension, framed in an approachable, accessible design. “When we start to extend our abilities, and when we reframe prosthetics as extensions, then we start to shift the focus from ‘fixing’ disability, to extending ability,” concludes Clode.
Clode sees the uses for the third thumb being anything from helping people to carry more or larger objects, to having more hand strength for everyday tasks, on to using the additional finger for more complex musical arrangements such as more musical guitar chords.
Clode is originally from New Zealand and completed her undergraduate degree at Victoria University in Wellington before moving to London to study at the RCA.