Monday, June 29, 2009

Computer Science + Prosthetics

Unlike the exoskeletons in the previous post that enhance but do not alter the human body, some devices have been developed to altogether replace human extremities. Similarly to the exoskeleton, however, the technology is young and is only employed when the original body part has been lost.
Prosthetics, in one way or another, have been around for centuries, but with the coming of computer science technology the replacement limbs can finally become fully functional and responsive.

Through the use of microprocessors embedded into the prosthetic legs that analyse residual muscle and nerve activity, people are able to improve their lives and lives of others.

The legs shown in the video were developed by Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, also the developers of the i-LIMB® Hand, "the first commercially available, fully articulating, bionic hand."

With this computer-aided technology still merely in its infancy, the results are already astounding. The only question lest to ask is "how far can this be developed, what is the final outcome of this man-machine combination?" In my opinion, the range of this innovative technology is truly limitless. With time, prosthetics are going to become indistinguishable from, and, eventually, superior to the real human parts, for better or for worse truly taking the humanity to the age of science fiction finally becoming just science and the normal way of life for all of us.

First Steps in Exoskeleton Development

The theme of this blog was inspired by the article for HealthDay by E.J. Mundell called Get Ready for the Real Bionic Man that was provided as a CrossCurrents section in the SCS100 textbook, Tomorrow's Technology and You by George Beekman and Michael J. Quinn.

In this article, Mundell is discussing the latest (as of 2006) developments in bionical creativity engineering, such as the BLEEX exoskeleton, developed to aid people to carry heavy loads by shifting the weight off the body and onto robotic limbs that follow the movement of the user's legs.
In the years after the publication of the article, Berkeley Robotics Human Engineering Laboratory have developed the concept even further with The Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC™) and the Medical Exoskeleton, designed to "allow their wearers to walk upright without the strain and muscular effort required by todafy's unpowered orthotic devices" such as wheelchairs.

But is it wrong to develop this technology with military uses in mind? Even though the civilian models show great promise to make the lives of many people easier, the fact that a major aim of this research is directed towards army use may be disturbing to many. In my opinion though, this issue is inevitable. Almost any useful technology first found its uses in the military, only later to be adopted by the general public. If a new device can prove itself advantageous and useful in the field of battle, then it is certain that it will also successfully do its part in other fields like medicine or emergency rescue.

And here is a video showcasing all the advantages of the HULC:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

In this blog, created as a final project for a SCS100 class, I will observe the development of biotechnologies that aim to help people by scientifically enhancing or altogether replacing human body parts with artificial alternatives.

"Bionic refers to application of biological ways and systems seen in nature to design and study the engineering systems. Bionic human would refer to human whose worn out parts can be repaired and refitted into the body. We cannot say that whole of a human body is replaceable but most of the parts can find replacements."
But is biognosis a right and ethical path for science to take? Many people oppose and are even repulsed by the idea of technologically altering the human body. I, however, do not see bionics as a fresh branch of science, it is, indeed, direct continuation of our scientific development. There is already plenty of devices that can be considered commonplace that may fall under the definition of bionic. Glasses, contact lenses, cochlear implants, dentures, dental implants and bridges, artificial hips, hearts and other organs are all nan-made devices that aid or replace a body part through use of science.

The 90's was a scientifically groundbreaking time with the advent of the internet and other advanced information technology. This coming decade is also promising to bring further innovations to how we live our lives and new technologies such as the ones below may soon become just as commonplace as computers and the internet have become today.