Four fingers and a thumb on each hand is pretty useful. Humans
have gone from caves to sprawling cities in part because of our
But researchers at MIT think we could do even better if we had
an upgrade. They have developed a glove with two extra robotic
fingers that respond intelligently to your movements, allowing you
to perform two-handed tasks with just one robot-enhanced hand.
“You do not need to command the robot, but simply move your
fingers naturally. Then the robotic fingers react and assist your
fingers,” said the glove’s creator Harry Asada, of MIT’s Department of
To develop the glove, Asada and MIT graduate student Faye Wu
analysed the grasping motion of the hand using a special glove
fitted with motion-recording sensors. They reduced it to two basic
motions: curling your fingers together, and then rotating them to
fit an object’s shape.
From that research, they developed an algorithm that allows the
robotic fingers to respond to data from bending sensors on your
human fingers and move to a helpful position. The researchers say
it could help elderly people or people with disabilities live
In a video demonstrating the glove, Asada and Wu show the glove
assisting in several tasks, including holding a box while your
human fingers open the lid, holding a bottle while you unscrew the
cap and, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, holding a cup while you stir
“Everyday we use various tools. A knife and fork, and then we
drive a car. If you use those tools for a long time, you feel that
those tools are just an extension of your body. That’s exactly what
we’d like to do with robotics. You’d have extra fingers, extra
arms. If we can control and communicate with them very well, you
get to feel that those are just an extension of your body,” says
Asada in the video.
The research is broadly part of a large field of increasingly
sophisticated exoskeleton technology, which was most recently and
famously on show at the World Cup, when a paralysed person wearing a brain-controlled exoskeleton made
the first kick of the competition.
At the moment the robotic fingers themselves don’t flex, which
limits their grasping abilities. Additionally, they don’t take into
account the force of the grasp, which is the next stage of
development, according to Wu.
“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,”
In future, the fingers might be foldable and only spring out
when they’re needed, they suggest. Which sounds excitingly like
‘Go, go gadget fingers!’ territory.