These prosthodontists break the mold with third thumbs, spikes, and heroic skins

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Claude’s current project, which she is also helping to make work, is a “third thumb” that anyone can use to increase their holdings. The flexible device is powered by motors and controlled using pressure sensors in the shoes. Volunteers learned how to open a bottle, drink tea and play the guitar. One day, she hopes, the thumb (and devices like it) can help everyone from factory workers to surgeons to perform tasks more efficiently, reducing the pressure on themselves.

Traditionally, prosthetic designers have looked to the human body for inspiration. Prosthetics were seen as substitutes for missing body parts; Hyperrealistic bionic legs and arms were the holy grail. Thanks to sci-fi franchises like Star Wars, such devices still have a visual grip on our collective imagination. For better or worse, they have shaped how many people perceive the future of synthetic medicine.

But Clod is part of a movement within the alternative synthetic medicine movement, with no attempt at integration as a provincial technological method. Creating fantastic prosthetics like tentacles that spin, glow, or shoot sparkles. Other nonstandard prostheses, like the blade legs favored by runners, are designed for specific tasks. Designers believe that these devices will help prosthetic users to control their self-image and feel more empowered, while at the same time breaking down some of the stigma around disabilities and leg differences.

But despite the increased visibility of alternative prostheses, they are overshadowed by an inconvenient truth: prostheses still only serve a small percentage of those who can use them. In a world where many people seeking prosthetics can’t afford them, advocates are looking for a middle ground where accessibility, style and substance overlap.


Artificial tools are old and deeply human. The best-known artificial feet are from ancient Egypt: two carved toes, one attached to the mummy’s right foot, dated 2,500 to 3,000 years ago and bearing the unmistakable mark of a thong shoe.

Ancient humans built and wore artificial bodies for many reasons—some practical, some spiritual, some filled with the logic of potential. Most are designed to blend in, but some stand out on purpose. When the Roman general Marcus Sergius Silus lost an arm in the Second Punic War, he ordered an iron replacement. At least one medieval Italian seems to have replaced his hand with a knife.

Instead of making devices that look like a “normal” arm or leg, Claude and her fellow designers are creating fantastic prosthetics that spin, light up, and even blink like tentacles.

The push to customize prosthetics makes sense to Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a gender studies professor at Wesleyan University who researches body modification in culture, medicine, and science. “Anything we do to our bodies, we don’t do to them in a social space,” she says. Veterans may express their identity through a physical tribute to their military service, while artists may want to experiment with color and pattern.

In Pitts-Taylor’s view, all members of society are required to modify their bodies in certain ways—for example, by cutting hair and wearing different clothes. “We feel great when we can find ways to adjust our bodies that reflect our sensibilities and our own feelings,” she says.

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