Playing the piano with a robotic third thumb: assessing constraints of human augmentation

Sci Rep. 2021 Nov 1;11(1):21375. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-00376-6.


Contemporary robotics gives us mechatronic capabilities for augmenting human bodies with extra limbs. However, how our motor control capabilities pose limits on such augmentation is an open question. We developed a Supernumerary Robotic 3rd Thumbs (SR3T) with two degrees-of-freedom controlled by the user's body to endow them with an extra contralateral thumb on the hand. We demonstrate that a pianist can learn to play the piano with 11 fingers within an hour. We then evaluate 6 naïve and 6 experienced piano players in their prior motor coordination and their capability in piano playing with the robotic augmentation. We show that individuals' augmented performance with the SR3T could be explained by our new custom motor coordination assessment, the Human Augmentation Motor Coordination Assessment (HAMCA) performed pre-augmentation. Our work demonstrates how supernumerary robotics can augment humans in skilled tasks and that individual differences in their augmentation capability are explainable by their individual motor coordination abilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't