8 Amazing Advancements That Will Fulfill Your Cyborg Fantasies
Ever dream of being a RoboCop? Some of the recent advances in biotechnology and bioengineering are inching humans closer to that Hollywood fantasy of man merging with machine. And as robotic body parts become more and more human in their abilities and appearance, the prospect of using technology to augment and surpass the human body’s natural limitations is no longer just science fiction. Case in point: The world’s first cyborg Olympics will be held in Zurich in October 2016. But will robots become "human" ― think Terminator ― before we can become robotic? Have a look at some scientific advances that are paving the way for our future robotic upgrades.
Billed as the world’s most anatomically accurate artificial hand, the U.K.-based Steeper Group’s BeBionic has 337 mechanical parts controlled via sensors that detect muscle movement in the wearer’s arm. The hand is capable of 14 different precision grips and can hold up to 100 pounds. Not to be outdone, our own Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has demonstrated a prosthetic hand that not only can be controlled via thought — enabled via electrodes implanted in the user’s brain — but that can actually sense touch as well.
The first thought-controlled bionic leg was developed at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and funded by the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center with the hopes of making the technology available to 1,200 lower-body amputees who have served in the military. Redirected nerves instruct the muscles to contract as sensors on the user’s leg detect tiny electrical signals from the muscles. A computer program analyzes these signals as well as data from sensors in the robotic leg, decodes the type of movement the user is trying to perform and then sends those commands to the robotic leg.
While other prostheses developers aspire to lifelike control and appearance, the U.K.-based Alternative Limb Project is giving the world its first glimpses of how far beyond flesh and bone artificial body parts can go. Based on the multipurpose artificial arm of Snake from the video game Metal Gear Solid V, the Phantom Limb (not pictured; seen at the link below) features a smartwatch, a USB port for phone charging and even a flyaway drone packed into the shoulder cavity. Though currently detachable, the arm’s owner is planning on having it directly attached to the bone with titanium.
Forget 20/20. By 2017, the Ocumetics Bionic Lens (not pictured) will be giving users with the implant the ability to see three times better than that. Instead of working like a contact lens, the Bionic Lens acts similarly to cataract surgery, adhering to the eye’s natural lens.
As an early beneficiary of man-meets-machine tech, the heart now has a new generation of pacemakers that uses an elastic membrane of electrodes that wraps around the organ. The membrane does more than just keep the heart’s rhythm steady; it also uses electrical stimuli in the case of an attack.
Swiss researchers have developed a material called e-Dura that can be applied directly to the spinal cord to conduct electrical impulses along stretches where nerve damage causes lack of movement, potentially helping paralysis sufferers to walk again.
From one of the same researchers who brought you the spinal implant, cyber skin (not pictured) is a product being developed for burn victims and those who have lost the use of a limb. The thousands of receptors in the skin make it the most important sensorial organ. The innovation would allow those who’ve lost feeling in part of their skin to once again sense temperature, pressure and pain.
Related: A cyber skin that feels
For now, brain implants are available for medical patients with specific conditions. For example, thousands of patients with Parkinson’s disease have devices implanted in their brains to send electrical pulses to help with motor control. Recently, researchers from Ohio State University and Battelle Memorial Institute helped a paralyzed patient regain control of his right hand through a computer chip implanted into his brain (not pictured).
How Far Is Too Far?
Allysa Seely, the 2015 paratriathlete world champion and a participant in the 2016 Paralympics in September, wears a prosthetic on her left leg, which was amputated below the knee. She told EPSN The Magazine that opponents believe she has an unfair advantage. “As soon as I started to get faster and I started to win races people’s perspective on it changed. All of a sudden it went from, ‘You’re doing so great!’ to ‘This is not fair.’” A Pew Research Center poll found similar sentiments regarding technology-enhanced humans: The majority of U.S. adults greet the possibility of biomedical and technological breakthroughs — which could push the boundaries of human abilities — with more wariness and worry than enthusiasm and hope.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you excited about any of these new developments, or are you feeling more skeptical and worried? Do you think that the majority humans will eventually become cyborgs? Are you a cyborg? If not, would you become a one if you had the opportunity? Let us know in the comment section below!
- New York Times: Prosthetic Limbs, Controlled by Thought
- WIRED: Bionic hand can feed physical sensations directly to the brain
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: Neurotechnology Provides Near-Natural Sense of Touch
- ESPN W: Paratriathlete Allysa Seely on Prosthetics and PRs
- Engadget: 7 real-life cyborg implants
- Popular Science: Brain-Controlled Bionic Legs Are Finally Here
- WIRED: Can Prosthetics Outperform Real Limbs?
- Southern California Public Radio: Study -- Most people distrust biotech enhancements -- for now
- The Alternative Limb Project
- Pew Research Center: Public opinion on the future use of brain implants
- Vladislav Ociacia/Adobe Stock