Contemporary author Jess C. Scott once wrote; “The human body is the best work of art.” However, the non-conformist writer, whose genres include urban fantasy and cyberpunk, may well approve of the medical creations by designer Dani Clode. The most recent of these innovations is the Third Thumb Project, which takes the idea of prosthetics to a new level and raises questions about the limits of ‘ability’ and the human experience in the modern age.
The Third Thumb Project is the design for a prosthetic thumb with a dexterous 3-D printed body that can be moved and controlled through pressure pads in your shoes. However, this thumb isn’t created to replace one that’s missing – it’is worn on the other side of your hand, and instead of re-creating an action that human beings can do, it allows the hand to do things it never has before. Dani says of her design; “It is part tool, part experience, and part self-expression.”
Dani has previously invented several other aesthetic and innovative additions to the world of prosthetics and medical technology, such as ‘Synchronised’, which re-imagined the prosthetic arm as a piece of jewelry, and ‘The Bone Knitter’, which knits casts over broken bones using all-natural materials. The Third Thumb was inspired when Dani looked up the definition of ‘prosthesis’ and found it means “to add; to put onto”, rather than to replace. This raised the question for Dani: why are prosthetics only used to replace, and not also to extend?
“The Third Thumb aims to challenge the perception of prosthetics, creating a shift from medical device to positive body image statement.” This aim is similar to that of ‘Synchronised’, but of course, it takes things a step further. “When we reframe prosthetics as extensions, then we start to shift the focus from ‘fixing’ disability, to extending ability.” The Third Thumb’s existence is a dialogue about augmentation, and a visual discussion about the limitation – or lack thereof – on extending the human ‘body’ further in the future.
The thumb’s motors are controlled by two pressure sensors fitted into your shoes, under the toes, which send signals to the thumb via Bluetooth. Using the feet for control was inspired by the amount of interaction and communication already existing between our hands and feet, which are capable of working together without requiring too much focus. The technology may change in time, but what this project has done is introduce a new idea.
Whilst the third thumb is currently a prototype, Dani is keen to explore its aesthetic potential, to “create a catalyst for society to consider human extension, framed in an approachable, accessible design.” Said simply, if one can market the Third Thumb as a fashion statement the way we regard glasses or watches, or as fashionable body modification similar to piercings and tattoos, then this currently alien or medical-seeming idea can become an accepted part of every-day life, and one that people are keen to invest in, play with and use to express themselves.
The Third Thumb won the Helen Hamlyn Award for Creativity and has already become an internet sensation. People seem to be enjoying the thumb both for its look and for the extra abilities it can give: if nothing else, it allows us to experiment at using a body that is different to the one nature gave us, inviting further innovations into augmentation and challenging humanity to take itself to the next level.
You can find out more about the Third Thumb Project and Dani Clode’s other designs at http://www.daniclodedesign.com