The most significant part of our world is that all of the world’s fields and areas of knowledge can relate to each other even in the most farfetched ways. By connecting these different faculties together, one can create new fields that can greatly help our world and the human population. One of the most successful collaborations of two different fields is technology and human biology, namely bionics. Another name for bionics is biomimicry; this name better illustrates the purpose of the subject as machine replacing or amplifying human biological movements. Long has this subject been limited to sticks and hooks; however, recent technological advancements have allowed for prosthetics controlled by thought. This is what this essay will revolve around: the neurobiology of the human body, bionics and prosthetics/neuroprosthetics and the future of bionics.
Part One – The Neurobiology of the Human Body
The human body is a brilliant machine on its own. With its own system of fuel flow in the form of blood and veins, and an engine-like heart, the body is truly a machine. Yet what makes this even more prominent is the interconnecting nexus of electrical impulses in our body, complete with main circuitry being the brain and spinal cord. This nexus is able to send unlimited messages to all its parts, able to grow and shrink with age, and most importantly able to control all movements and thoughts. This nexus is the neurobiology of the body.
Neurobiology is the biology of the nervous system, the network that controls all these electrical impulses. These impulses are messages of electricity sent by the brain via the spinal cord to effector cells that cause the body to react or move. The key word here is electricity; electricity travels through the body at amazingly fast speeds sending all kinds of messages needed for daily living. Membrane proteins found in all cells, known as ion channels, produce electrical signals that control processes including the human heartbeat, vision and sexual attraction through electrical ‘events’ in neurons and muscle cells. A large part of the human body runs on electricity.
Part Two – Bionics and Prosthetics/Neuroprosthetics
Electricity is what powers man. Electricity is what powers machine. The combination of these two electricities results in the subject of Bionics. Bionics is the science of replacing biology with machine. Todd Kuiken, an expert on bionic prosthetics, describes bionics as “the stuff of life meets machine”. This field has many practical advantages including advanced rehabilitation for amputee’s. By combining the knowledge of the human circuitry and machine circuitry, neuroprosthetics allows for more natural replacement limbs.
Prosthetics historically were called upon generally for war amputations, “The first recorded instance of amputations and prosthetic replacement appears in the book of the Vedas, written in Sanskrit in India … believed to have been compiled between 3,500 and 1,800 B.C. It records that the leg of Queen Vishpla was amputated in battle. After healing of the repaired wound, an iron leg was fitted to enable Queen Vishpla to walk and to return to the battlefield.” [Vanderwerker] Since then, amputations and prosthetics have become more comfortable. As well, the technology of the art has become more advanced and more varied as different situations occurred like the introduction to gun powder. Today Neuroprosthetics allows the prosthetics to read the impulses the brain sends to the amputated limbs and cause corresponding effectors to react.
The human impulse can be connected to the prosthetic in several ways, the two most common is to place highly precise sensors on the body so that when the signal comes it can be detected and a new signal sent through the machine and to connect each individual neuron via artificial synapses to send the message through.
In this technology, the main goal is to make the human life easier and more flexible. An amputated arm is where this technology is the most useful because of the number of signals that must be controlled (fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder). Neuroprosthetics depends on myoelectric control to make our human biology better.
Part Three – The Future of Bionics
Myoelectric control takes impulses from muscle and records it to work an arm, the basic logic behind this process of neuroprosthetics. This myoelectric control is the basis of all bionics to come: cyborgs, androids, and all other human amplification technology will begin because of this. Our current use as prosthetics is only a start from where we can become more dependent on technology. Our dependency on technology is already a lot higher than the older generation would like, however it’s efficiency is undeniable. To consumers efficiency is key, and with thought controlled technology such as neuroprosthetics, ‘Thought Control’ will become tomorrow’s biggest thing.
There is already voice control, but soon there will be wide-spread thought control. Thought control today starts with neuroprosthetics being the more desirable replacement limb for amputees, but while this technology is relatively new, its use will increase rapidly and become more common-place. Then newer technologies will expand. ‘Robot suits’ that use nerve signals to help amplify arm and leg movements are already being created and tested by Tsukuba University in Japan, MIT in the United States and many others. Soon these suits will mesh into the human frame with bionics and then anyone with the money for surgery can be amputated and have extra powerful limbs controlled with just their thoughts.
The second breakthrough in thought control to come is a tool known as BodyWave. “The technology is based on electroencephalography (EEG), the study of how brain activity … excites neurons to emit brain waves. This electrical activity originates in the brain but is transported along the central nervous system. [Wearing the BodyWave anywhere on the skin will send signals where] the sensors register the electrical charges that occur in your brain when you concentrate hard. That synchrony produces a unique electrical signature that can be measured. When you stop concentrating, the synchrony breaks and the signature changes. The BodyWave then transmits this change through a simple receiver plugged into a USB port.”[Cloud] Through this technology, a computer will be able to carry out any task you wish.
Like with any aspiring technology, the potential for that technology to grow, with any tweaks and innovations, is unlimited.
Biology and technology are two growing, changing and relevant fields that are always thought to be two completely different fields. However, it is important to remember how mechanical our own bodies are and how advances in mechanical technology can mimic biological mechanics. From one field of science, we can advance the other.