The Arque tail enhances the wearer’s balance and can be used to help the elderly keep their balance. (Image Credit: Yamen Saraiji)
Long ago, humans possibly sported tails that didn’t have many purposes, but they eventually lost their tails due to evolution. In 2019, researchers at Keio University in Japan developed a wearable robotic tail, named Arque, that helps the elderly or people with motor deficiencies maintain their balance.
Monkeys and cheetahs benefit from using their tails to help maintain balance and make sharp curves more efficiently. Sometimes tails can become an inconvenience and get in the way. Other than a few advantages, tails served no purpose to humans, and it wasn’t efficient to consume resources for them. Our vestigial bones indicate that the earliest humans once had a tail.
Arque provides humans with cat-like agility despite the design being similar to a seahorse’s appendage. The team developed the robotic tail with a series of interconnected plastic vertebrae that can be customized to suit the wearer by integrating segments or counter-balance weights. Powered by compressed air, four artificial muscles contract and expand in varying combinations. This allows it to move in any direction. The tail uses an external air compressor to generate the right pressure to move.
Researchers are still working on the one-meter device, hoping to make it more flexible, reliable, and robust. Arque could be worn by industrial workers to help maintain their balance while lifting or carrying heavy objects. It functions as an exoskeleton suit by making the wearer’s muscles more efficient, allowing them to use less force when picking up heavy objects. Less complex than an exoskeleton, the robotic tail is easy to wear and remove. Researchers believe it could add full-body haptic feedback to people in virtual reality by adjusting their balance and momentum. Elderly people could also wear this device to keep themselves safe and active. Seems silly, but if it helps people, why not?
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