Science is reinventing the human body. Scientists are growing novel technologies that are not foreseen or anticipated by the nature. I believe it is the appropriate time to talk about the Prosthetic technology.
Bionics & Prosthetics explore the interplay between biology and design. It exhibits how electro mechanics attached to body and implanted inside the body are beginning to bridge the gap between disability and ability; between human limitation and human potential.
Technology is vast; a simple yet powerful idea has called to the elimination of disability which has led to BIONICS– the Revolutionizing Prosthetics. There are many ways where scientists are using bionic technology to transform patients’ lives. These include exoskeleton, eyes, brain, hands, legs, ears, pancreas, etc.
To understand the future of Bionics, one must first look back at its history to better comprehend the evolution.
Archeologists believe that the world’s oldest prosthetic was an artificial toe found on an Egyptian mummy.
In India, Sushruta, a teacher of surgeon and Ayurveda flourished during the sixth century B.C. He was responsible for the advancement of medicine in ancient India and also one of the oldest known surgeons. He was recognized for his method of Rhinoplasty. He is known as the “Father of Plastic Surgery”. In his method of Rhinoplasty, the damaged nose is placed by an artificial nose. This was known famously as “Indian Nose”. After gathering sufficient information, English surgeon J.C. Carpue, performed two similar operations in 1814 with successful results. Sushrutha Samhita is a Sanskrit text on surgery, referring to Sushruta.
More advanced prosthetics were made of iron and bronze during the later centuries. In the late sixteenth century, the French Army surgeon Ambroise Paré created far more advanced prosthetics specifically the bendable leg. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, one could see the greatest advancements in the field of prosthetic and engineering. More flexibility and new building materials provided engineers to enable a higher range of mobility for their patients.
However, in 1890’s, when a Russian inventor- Nicholas Yagn who patented the first exoskeleton powered by compressed gas bags to assist with walking, jumping and running. In 1960’s, General Electric & US Military created the Hardiman suit using electricity and hydraulics but the device was dangerous and uncontrollable. The models of 2000’s were considered heavy but in 2005, battery technology had made a change with light weight equipment and computer processing power.
The working mechanism behind these inventions is all that it counts. How exactly do they work? For an individual, there are a broad variety of electronic options to choose from:
- The UK Company (BEBIONIC) has produced sleek, elegant and cutting edge electronic hands for amputees which present over a dozen grip patterns, wrist mobility, and speed control with custom-designed options. All these process through the muscle pressure sensors located in the device’s casing. (http://bebionic.com/)
- Another company, TOUCH BIONICS (http://www.touchbionics.com/) is a world-leading prosthetic technology provider that produces both full and partial hand prosthetics with extremely advanced gesture control and manipulation. Touch Bionics history began with a work conducted at the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital in Edinburgh in 1963, later David Gow in 1986 worked on electronic arms that include shoulders, wrists and hands. Initially, the company was called Touch EMAS, where EMAS stands for Edinburgh Modular Arm System. It was re-branded as Touch Bionics in 2005. Touch Bionics products allows the user a greater degree of freedom of motion along with increased strength. Similarly, Touch Bionics hands operate using sensors that detect muscle movements. Their products include prosthetic i-limb hand (hand), i- limb digits (fingers) and living skin.
- Ekso Skeleton: The EKSO SKELETON device was invented by Ekso Bionics. This suit helps people with spinal cord injury or those who suffered stroke. It is a kind of wearable robot where the signals are sent from the brain making the body work and simultaneously one gets the therapy with their disabled parts going through a very natural gait so the signals are being sent back. This helps with neuroplasticity and also the person to regain the ability to work without device.
Other similar product designing companies with a bit more advanced technology are SuitX and REWALK which help individuals with spinal cord injury and mobility disorders.
- KERNEL: This is one such company that is looking forward to make science fiction possible. Kernel was found by Bryan Johnson in 2016. Bryan discloses that this particular device need not be implanted beneath the skull; it is designed in such a way that it facilitates communication between brain cells by hacking the neural code that enables our brain to store and recollect the information.
- There are also other prosthetics- Osseointegrated Implants which are integrated with bone. The device is implanted into the medulla of the bone. The implant allows initial stability and long term bone integration. The compatibility of the implant allows the bone to grow inside the surface of the prosthesis which makes the bone-implant structure one solid unit. This is known as Osseointegration.
Bionics is the Revolution between man and machine. Humans are waiting to see much more usage of Bionic Technology such as-
- Artificial Red and White blood cells: These artificial white blood cells that are tiny smart particles called leukopolymersomes that mimic the WBC in our body and will be programmed to perform specific tasks like finding and adhering to infected cells and delivering a cancer drug, while Artificial Red blood cells contain 18 billion atoms and tend to carry 100 times more oxygen than natural red blood cells which could allow people to hold their breathe for hours.
- Printed Bones: A ceramic powder has been created by the Washington State University scientists which they can use to print artificial bone scaffolds. This scaffolding dissolves as and when the natural bone grows around it.
- Artificial Kidney: By 2022, an artificial kidney will replace all the functions of the real kidney in an implantable device. A series of Nano silicone screens will filter the toxins out of the blood and a bioreactor made of special kidney cells will perform other retinal functions.
- Bionic Lens: This is a wirelessly powered lens embedded with micro-optics not only enhances vision and provide night vision but also restore some amount of the lost vision.
- Lab Grown Liver: Researchers are also targeting the more complex organs- Liver, which is grown from the own cells of the patient as a scaffold, while a full implant would take several years more. Researchers have come up with injections of the healthy cells of lab grown tissue to repair the damaged organs.
All the above discussed technologies have been patented. There are about 3,726 Patents filed with respect to the Bionics Technology worldwide. Among which, Two of the leading Assignees in filing patents related to this field are EKSO BIONICS and ADVANCED BIONICS AG.
Ekso Bionics has a total of 37 Patents till date with a recent one filed for “Human exoskeleton devices for heavy tool support and use” on 04.05.2017; while, Advanced Bionics AG has 266 Patents till date with its recent filing for “Connectorized cochlear implant systems and methods” on 04.05.2017. Similarly, Touch Bionics has around 20+ Patents filed.
We are beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger, faster and more efficient. These prosthetics are no less; one could touch and feel these synthetic parts just like their biological parts. Bionics will give humans superior capabilities.
Future will experience more inventions that would be more superior to the biological muscle tissue.
Sooner or later we will see prosthetics that far exceed the capabilities of their biological counterparts, but what will happen when they exceed the capabilities and functionality of our natural parts? What if the prosthetic parts are more dominating than the biological parts?
Would the individuals be provided to ‘upgrade’ their natural selves in favor of faster, stronger and more adept technology upgrades? Individuals across the world see this concept coming to fruition. We just have to wait to find out!