Researchers from Keio University in Japan have created a prototype for a mechanical tail that they say — not unlike a real, biological tail — provides the wearer more agility and balance.
The tail, dubbed The Arque tail, was presented at conference in Los Angeles last week that brings together emerging technologies in gaming and graphics, Fast Company reports.
While a human with a tail may evoke our primate ancestry, researchers say that their version — a swiveling worm-like device strapped around a user’s waist — is inspired by the Seahorse.
Seahorse tails, notes Fast Company, are strong enough to endure attacks from predators but still flexible enough to be used a type of hand that can grip coral and other environmental objects.
For proof of a tail’s efficacy in helping to gracefully navigate narrow or tenuous landscapes, one might look to the acumen of more domestic animals, like cats.
Researchers also designed their tail to be versatile by making it adjustable to wearers depending on their height and weight.
To do so, mechanical vertebrae can be added or removed from the device.
The pieces are also weighted, which could help the wearer maintain balance when carrying heavy objects.
Among other things, the teams says that the hardware could have applications in gaming, specifically virtual reality, as a means of throwing users off balance which could theoretically increase the difficulty of a game or make it more realistic.
Arque employs the use of several artificial muscles that run along its length and uses a pressurized air system to expand and contract vertebrae to create movement.
Currently, the device is dependent on an external compressor that generates the air, meaning it’s far from mobile, but as noted by Gizmodo, future progress in soft robotics and tissues could help power the device on-the-go using only a battery.
Outside of gaming, Arque could also have applications in more practical fields like exoskeletons used in heavy construction — an increasingly legitimate field of robotics that promises to augment human ability.