Thumb Extension for Smart Phones

We admit we were tempted to laugh at this clever invention, but then we realized it just might be very useful for seniors suffering from arthritis—or short fingers.

This is a real thing, according to no less than the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, this is a real thing.

We promise we’re not making this up! From gadget-loving Japan comes “Yubi Nobiiru” (finger growth), a prosthesis that looks like a long silicone thimble that you wear over your thumb to extend its reach across large cell phone screens. It’s supposed to be discretely “flesh-toned,” an accurate description if you happen to be a light-orange-skinned android.

What makes it real—and makes it work—is an embedded conductor that works on the principle of capacitance (charges across an electrical field). Our fingers themselves have slight electric charges, which is how they are able to activate the electronics in cell phones and other touchscreen devices. (For details on how this works, see this excellent illustrated overview from The Washington Post.)

Given the super-heroine graphics and the bombastic music in the video, you may find this hard to take seriously, but it’s worth thinking about where engineers could go with artificial skin capacitance. As we age, touch sensitivity can decrease while painful ailments in the hands can increase, so as silly as the Yubi Nobiiru seems, it could be the first of a new class of devices that enable seniors to function in an increasingly touchscreen world.

If you can read Japanese, you can order your own Yubi Nobiiru here.