Control of a Supernumerary Robotic Hand by Foot: An Experimental Study in Virtual Reality
In the operational theater, the surgical team could highly benefit from a robotic supplementary hand under the surgeon's full control. The surgeon may so become more autonomous; this may reduce communication errors with the assistants and take over difficult tasks such as holding tools without tremor. In this paper, we therefore examine the possibility to control a third robotic hand with one foot's movements. Three experiments in virtual reality were designed to assess the feasibility of this control strategy, the learning curve of the subjects in different tasks and the coordination of foot movements with the two natural hands. Results show that the limbs are moved simultaneously, in parallel rather than serially. Participants' performance improved within a few minutes of practice without any specific difficulty to complete the tasks. Subjective assessment by the subjects indicated that controlling a third hand by foot has been easy and required only negligible physical and mental efforts. The sense of ownership was reported to improve through the experiments. The mental burden was not directly related to the level of motion required by a task, but depended on the type of activity and practice. The most difficult task was moving two hands and foot in opposite directions. These results suggest that a combination of practice and appropriate tasks can enhance the learning process for controlling a robotic hand by foot.