A recent study has discovered that humans can easily learn to operate an additional limb, despite not having the need to do so for millions of years since some ancestral species lost their tails. The study focused on repurposing leg muscles to operate the additional limb, which could lead to better surgical outcomes in the future.

Individuals with damaged or amputated arms or legs can quickly learn to use prosthetics by redirecting the brain circuits we have had since ancient times. We also have the ability to quickly learn how to use tools. However, the concept of operating our own limbs, as well as additional robotic limbs, is still relatively new territory for humans. Our ancestors only had one hand, so the concept of using multiple limbs is something that has developed more recently in evolutionary terms.

A collaboration between researchers from the UK and Australia gave participants the ability to control additional limbs while using their hands. It was expected that participants would struggle with this new task, but surprisingly, they learned it very quickly.

Dr. Ekaterina Ivanova from Queen Mary University stated, “Many daily tasks, such as opening a door while carrying a large package, require more than two hands. Supernumerary robotic arms have been proposed as a way to enable people to perform these tasks more easily, but it was not clear how easy they would be to use.” The study used a video game where participants had to control three effectors simultaneously. Some participants received training sessions, while others collaborated with a partner who controlled the third effector. Both groups performed equally well, indicating that it only took them an hour to effectively learn how to use the additional limb.

This study shows promising potential for the development of supernumerary robotic arms that can assist people in various tasks, such as surgeries, industrial work, or rehabilitation. The findings have been published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering.

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