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A ready-to-wear tail for grandma

This twitching “rear-end” prosthetic might just be able to keep you steadier on your feet. Using artificial biomimicry, ‘Arque’—a thick, meter long sci-fi looking tail — was inspired to help the elderly stay steady on their feet or regain their balance during a fall.

By studying the way the seahorse and other animals passively use their tails to improve their mobility and stability by shifting their centre of gravity, a team of graduate scholars at the University of Japan discovered that they could automatically correct a client’s centre of gravity using similar principles. The prototype (pictured) is strapped around the user’s waist in conjunction with a wearable body tracker, which measures the user’s centre of gravity; prompting the tail mechanism to initiate counterbalance. If the wearer leans left, the tail twists right. If the wearer leans down, the tail swings up.

Arque is comprised of interlocking plastic vertebrae, and the tail uses a spring-based structure to handle shearing and tangential forces. The team imagines a number of potential useful applications, including combining it with sensors or linking it with brain signals to create another artificial limb. They also wonder if a gamer might want to use it to enhance their virtual world experience. A little hard to take to the shopping mall or out for dinner, but never say never.

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