By Tim Binnall
A team of researchers in Japan have reportedly created a bizarre augmentation for the human body: a robot tail that they say can improve a person's balance and agility. The weird invention, which is the handiwork of scientists at Tokyo's Keio University, was showcased at an emerging technologies conference in California late last month. Dubbed 'Arque,' the researchers describe the device as an "artificial biomimicry-inspired anthropomorphic tail."
To that end, the odd-looking invention takes its cue from nature, specifically the tail of a seahorse. It consists of metal vertebrae-like pieces which taper towards a pointed end and can be adjusted in length as well as weight in order to counterbalance the proportions of the person wearing it. Within the tail are four artificial muscles which "provide force in eight directions" and allow for considerable movement of the faux appendage.
Unfortunately, that complex design is powered by an air compressor which is tethered to the system and severely limits the mobility of the device. That said, the researchers envision a time in the not-too-distant future in which a solution to that problem can be developed and the robotic tail can be deployed in a variety of real-world scenarios where improved balance and agility would be beneficial, such as lifting heavy objects or helping to stabilize a person who walks with an unsteady gait.