Is the Smartphone MobiLimb Giving You the Finger?

Researchers have created a new device for smartphones called MobiLimb. Thes robotic appendage connects to the charge port on the bottom of a smartphone and adds a small finger-like limb with 5 degrees of movement, overcoming the static, passive and motionless limitations of mobile devices. The robotic limb preserves the device form factor in how it attaches and the I/O capabilities of the device.

MobiLimb isn’t limited to common vibration feedback that devices already offer, but directly touches the user. It can react expressively to a user’s actions with haptic feedback, like stroking, patting and otherwise stimulating the user’s hand. The form factor isn’t limited to a finger-like attachment on your smartphone. MobiLimb supports other modules and devices including LEDs, shells and proximity sensors.

The researchers say that MobiLimb is at the intersection of human-computer interface and robotics, where robotic elements aim to enhance interactions. MobiLimb relates to a research area called Supernumerary Robots that investigates augmenting humans with additional fingers or limbs. The extra body parts can help the user to grasp tools or perform tasks. MobiLimb aims to bring some of the same benefits to users without requiring them to attach anything to their body.

The robotic finger can draw a user’s attention through strokes and taps with various spatial and temporal patterns, or by physical contact on the inner wrist. The patterns can be different for various notification types. MobiLimb doesn’t have to look like a black, robotic finger on the smartphone; it can be covered in fake skin to make it look like a real human digit. It can also be covered in fur, making it look like a cat’s tail, or a point making it look like a scorpion tail.

It’s an unsettling addition for some.