As the default posture of a human is standing on two legs, they actually have a more difficult time maintaining their balance than a four-legged animal might. About the only appendages that a man naturally has to keep their body’s equilibrium are their arms, and usually they are not enough. But some researchers in a university in Japan have hit upon a quirky conceptual tech solution for the balance problems of a human, potentially useful for the elderly or those who are “clumsy,” tripping or losing balance frequently. Their solution is a reminder that Japan can still think up cutting-edge tech: a fully-articulated robotic tail.
You read right. CNN reports that a wearable robot tail for humans was developed and tested by a research team from Keio University in Tokyo. Worn behind the small of one’s back, secured by a waist harness, the meter-long tail can help ease a person’s balance issues by means of “bio-mimicry,” moving this way and that in response to his body posture so that they do not lose balance entirely. This robotic tail project is called Arque, which was conceptualized only last year by Keio University tech researchers Yamen Saraiji, Junichi Nabeshima and Kouta Minamizawa.
The way the Arque tail works is this: the tail setup is composed of an outer shell with hinged scale-like plates, underneath of which are four “artificial muscles” and an array of sensors that keep track of the movements of the body wearing the tail harness. The tail counteracts the body’s orientation, so if the person wearing Arque leans far left, the tail moves to the right. A person leaning forward and down makes the tail swing up. Its function as an extra limb is derived from tailed vertebrate mammals, while the tail structure itself is based on a seahorse.
Yamen Saraji explained in a phone interview that the concept of Arque derived from a simple idea of using wearable tech to empower a body to do more movements beyond what its base form can do. The choice of a seahorse tail as a base for the design was due to how it was large and heavy in comparison to the body of its attached animal, something necessary for maintaining the balance of a human body that stands upright similar to the seahorse underwater. Design notes have the Arque tail as being adjustable to be as heavy as 5% of the weight of the person wearing it. And because it attaches to the waist the person does not feel the tail’s presence until it moves to help maintain his balance.
The Arque tail is still in a research and development phase, and while its general commercial use is limited, the balancing aid potential is useful for medical cases and entertainment.
Image courtesy of PC Mag