The Bionic Man: A Reality or a Fantasy?
The idea of a bionic man, a human being enhanced by artificial limbs and organs, has been a popular theme in science fiction and media for decades. But how close are we to making this concept a reality? In this article, we will explore some of the latest developments and challenges in the field of bionics, and see how they could transform the lives of millions of people around the world.
What is bionics?
Bionics is the study and design of systems that mimic or augment the functions of living organisms. It can also refer to the use of such systems to replace or enhance parts of the human body that are damaged, missing or impaired. Bionics can be divided into two main categories: prosthetics and implants.
Prosthetics are artificial devices that replace or supplement a missing or defective body part, such as a limb, an eye or a heart valve. Prosthetics can be either passive or active. Passive prosthetics are designed to provide support and stability, but do not have any moving parts or sensors. Active prosthetics are powered by motors or batteries, and can respond to signals from the user’s muscles, nerves or brain.
Examples of prosthetics
- The i-limb ultra revolution is a robotic hand that can be controlled by muscle signals from the user’s arm. It has five individually powered fingers that can perform various gestures and grips.
- The C-leg is a microprocessor-controlled knee prosthesis that adapts to the user’s walking speed and terrain. It has sensors that measure the angle and force of the knee joint, and adjusts the hydraulic resistance accordingly.
- The Argus II is a retinal implant that restores some vision to people with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. It consists of a camera mounted on a pair of glasses, a video processor and an electrode array that stimulates the remaining retinal cells.
Implants are artificial devices that are inserted into the body to replace or enhance the function of an organ or tissue. Implants can be either mechanical or biological. Mechanical implants are made of synthetic materials, such as metal or plastic, and rely on external power sources or pumps. Biological implants are made of living cells or tissues, either from the same person (autologous) or from another person or animal (allogeneic or xenogeneic).
Examples of implants
- The artificial heart is a mechanical device that pumps blood through the body when the natural heart fails. It can be either implanted in the chest (total artificial heart) or connected to the natural heart (ventricular assist device).
- The cochlear implant is a device that converts sound into electrical signals that stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged inner ear. It consists of an external microphone, a speech processor and an internal electrode array.
- The bioartificial kidney is a device that combines living kidney cells with a synthetic membrane to filter blood and produce urine. It aims to replace dialysis for people with end-stage kidney disease.
What are the benefits and challenges of bionics?
Bionics has the potential to improve the quality of life and health outcomes for millions of people who suffer from disabilities, injuries or diseases that affect their body functions. Bionics can also enhance human capabilities beyond normal limits, such as strength, speed, endurance or perception.
However, bionics also poses many technical, ethical and social challenges. Some of these include:
- The cost and availability of bionic devices, especially for low-income countries and populations.
- The safety and reliability of bionic devices, especially in terms of infection, rejection, malfunction or hacking.
- The psychological and emotional impact of bionic devices on users and their families, such as identity, self-esteem, stigma or discrimination.
- The ethical and legal implications of bionic devices, such as ownership, responsibility, consent or regulation.
- The social and cultural implications of bionic devices, such as human dignity, equality, diversity or enhancement.