This ‘cyborg’ tail for elderly people will help them keep their balance

14 Aug 2019

Still from ‘Arque: Artificial Biomimicry-Inspired Tail for Extending Innate Body Functions’. Image: yamen saraiji/YouTube

Japanese researchers have built a robotic tail that could prevent elderly people with poor balance from falling over.

In the latest in cyborg developments, engineers from Keio University in Japan have created a large, wearable device that could seriously benefit the lives of an increasingly ageing global population.

According to NBC News, the robotic tail, dubbed Artificial Biomimicry-Inspired Tail for Extending Innate Body Functions (Arque), is one metre in length and mimics a seahorse’s tail, which has remarkable strength due to its boxy vertebrae.

It uses four artificial muscles and compressed air to allow it move in eight directions. However, as the project remains in its early stages, the researchers plan to keep the device in the lab to find ways to make it more flexible.

“In some situations, our bodies may lack the ability to support or balance us, such as in scenarios with poor footing balance,” said Junichi Nabeshima, a graduate student and researcher at the university’s Embodied Media Project.

“Although human bodies don’t have a functional tail as other animals, we see the [potential of biomimicking tails] for the field of human augmentation and adding new functions to our bodies.”

Nabeshima and the other researchers are also looking to expand its applications beyond just elderly care. This could include industrial uses such as warehouse workers using it as a balancing aid for heavy loads.

Another potential application would be in the field of video games, where the tail could add extra realism to virtual reality worlds.

The news follows research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, which saw the development of new technology that enables robots to build simple tools. In doing so, it suggests robots might be on the verge of their own ‘Stone Age’, according to the scientists from the university’s Robot Autonomy and Interactive Learning Lab.

This ‘MacGyvering’ technique – named after the famous TV show detective who could make escape tools out of seemingly anything – has been replicated using machine learning.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic