Technology 3 min read

Japanese Researchers Develop Robotic Tail for Humans

Japanese researchers developed a robotic tail that offers people assistive support when lifting heavy objects and better stability while moving.

Image courtesy of Keio University Graduate School of Media Design

Image courtesy of Keio University Graduate School of Media Design

If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to have a tail, you’re in luck. Thanks to current advancements in robotics, you may experience it sooner than you think.

A team of researchers from Keio University in Japan has developed a robotic tail for humans, and they’re calling it Arque. Inspired by a seahorse’s tail design, the prototype is tough enough to withstand a predator’s bite while flexible enough to grip a coral.

Also, the researchers developed the appendage to fit whoever wears it. Not only can you add or remove the modular vertebrae to adjust to your body, but small weight can also be inserted inside the vertebrae to help with weight offsets.

The result is a robotic tail that could provide balance to the human body like a real tail. As such, it gives a high level of stability to the wearers when they’re moving quickly or carrying heavy objects.

So, how does it work?

How the Robotic Tail Works

When adjusted to the user’s weight and height, the tail acts as a sort of counterbalance.

Tail movement is possible, thanks to the four artificial muscles that run down the length of the robotic appendage. The actuators contract and expand using an external pressurized air system that’s similar to a giant vacuum.

There’s just one major challenge.

Since the tail is attached to the system, users cannot be fully mobile. In other words, you wouldn’t be able to get very far wearing the robotic tail.

But, if the researchers could come up with a viable solution that’ll make the wearer mobile, the potential applications of the tail are numerous.

For example, it could serve as an assistive device for people who have trouble with balance. Also, laborers who have to lift heavy loads could have some form of support using it.

The robotic tail can also be useful in the gaming sector. Players can use it to throw each other off-balance to give a more realistic gaming experience.

With that said, there’s the issue of social acceptability. You have to wonder if people would be willing to forgo the simplicity of a walking stick for a robotic appendage.

The Keio graduate school researchers presented their work last week at the 2019 Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) conference in Los Angeles.

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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