An Overview of Bionic Technologies

Technology Will Integrate With Our Humanity

As technology has become more sophisticated, it has become more intimate. Mobile devices alone are like a small, personal window into the vastness of the web. 

But technology hasn’t stopped there. Bionic technologies are becoming a reality, and are integrating with the human body itself. Humans and technology are coming together in a multitude of ways.

Photo licensed under CC by Flickr user jurvetson.

Bionic technology refers to any tech that melds with the human body to enhance or restore its capacities. It is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, offering more augmentation for able-bodied people. Elective augmentation using bionics may soon become more widespread. 

Devices are hitting the market that can replace damaged sensory apparatus. Cochlear implants can serve as replacement ears. Retinal implants can perform the function of the human eye. 

Bionics are a topic that became popular in science fiction with the notion of cyborgs. Many of the ideas put forward in science fiction are not only becoming a reality, but are hitting the market as products. More »

Hugh Herr
By Joi Ito ( [ CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Some of the biggest innovations in bionics are at the margins; it is the extreme ideas that have the biggest potential for impact. It’s fitting, then, that the MIT Biomechatronics Group was once called the Extreme Bionics Lab. 

Dr. Hugh Herr leads the group, and he himself has a compelling story involving bionics. Both of his legs are bionic, and he is a recipient of many experimental technologies. 

The group works on the cutting edge of bionics, with a focus on different areas of the domain. Topics range from exoskeletons, to limb attachments, to powered bionic ankles. More »

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Exoskeleton Technology

Ekso Exoskeleton
Image © Ekso Bionics.

In popular culture, the notion of exoskeletons evoke the image of a robotic suit of armor. While exoskeletons of this type do exist, some of the most impactful exoskeletons are much simpler in design.

Ekso Bionics is selling an exoskeleton for walking rehabilitation that resembles robotic leg braces. This powered exoskeleton can allow people with disabilities to walk again. 

Many innovations are emerging with exoskeletons. Researchers are developing unpowered exoskeletons that can augment walking. Soon, exoskeletons will assist able-bodied people with physical tasks. Walking, running and lifting heavy things will become easier.

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Human Enhancement Technology

Photo licensed under CC by Flickr user

Many of the technologies mentioned offer the possibility of augmenting everyone.  Bionic enhancements will be available to the public. It will create real complexity as the notion of a cyborg moves from fantasy to reality. 

Smart drugs may be a starting point, offering a non-invasive form of enhancement. These are drugs not for therapeutic or recreational use, but used to enhance intelligence. Ethical concerns with enhancement technologies are inevitable. For example, what if your employer required you to use one of these invasive technologies?

Neil Harbisson
Photo licensed under CC by Flickr user Campus Party Europe in Berlin.

Our brains are not the part of us that perceives the outside world.  They interpret electrical signals from our senses. This process of interpretation is adaptable. For example, the brain allows a blind person to read in braille using touch. Braille readers can read at speeds that rival readers of print, and do so without conscious effort. Our brains can interpret touch as though reading with the eyes. 

Sensory substitution technologies are doing similar swapping of senses with greater complexity. Devices that allow users to see colors using sound, and feel words spoken as touches on the back. Sensory substitution technology may not stop there. A vest that allows the user to sense changes in the stock market is not far from reality. More »

Technology is Melding With Humanity

The fusion of technology with our humanity will create complexities. Many believe that technology will be the way around human evolution. Before any possibility of the singularity, bionics will be a huge force in allowing humans to overcome their physical limitations.
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