Health and Medicine

Stealth cyborgism: pacemakers, cochlear implants and prosthetics

wired.co.uk
Antonio Espingardeiro

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In science fiction the term “cyborg” is used to describe human beings whose bodily functions are aided or controlled by some type of technology. When you consider that what this actually refers to is enhanced capabilities through technology, we’re not talking about the bionic man. In reality these concepts allow people who suffered from accidents or with current disabilities to regain or exercise a set of skills.

The truth of it is, modifying or enhancing our bodies with technology is already possible and relatively common. Every year millions of pacemakers, cochlear and neural implants are successfully implanted in hospitals and clinics worldwide — would you call that transhumanism? What about prosthetic limbs? As these become more robotic and integrated into the human body the word “cyborg” may be becoming less of a fictional concept.

Developments in the area of robotic prosthetics may currently be seen in many different forms — Dawn O’Leary, a woman from Maryland who had both arms amputated after an accident was fitted with a prosthetic hand by Touch Bionics called i-Limb that offers her similar motor control of a real arm. This technology uses proprioception sensors to pick up nerve signals from her torso and translates these into commands for controlling a prosthetic hand which can grasp and move objects using the right amount of force. In the UK, Touch Bionics already offers a range of active prosthesis.

“Rewalk” from Argo Medical Technologies, is the exoskeleton famously used by Claire Lomas, a paralysed woman who successfully walked the London Marathon this year. Other force augmentation devices include “REX” from REX Bionics and “HAL” from Cyberdyne. These all provide a certain degree of mobility for wheelchair users with the ultimate goal being to provide alternative ways of travel for increasing the mobility, independency and quality of life of impaired users.

Developments in the area of robotic prosthetics may currently be seen in many different forms — Dawn O’Leary, a woman from Maryland who had both arms amputated after an accident was fitted with a prosthetic hand by Touch Bionics called i-Limb that offers her similar motor control of a real arm. This technology uses proprioception sensors to pick up nerve signals from her torso and translates these into commands for controlling a prosthetic hand which can grasp and move objects using the right amount of force. In the UK, Touch Bionics already offers a range of active prosthesis.

“Rewalk” from Argo Medical Technologies, is the exoskeleton famously used by Claire Lomas, a paralysed woman who successfully walked the London Marathon this year. Other force augmentation devices include “REX” from REX Bionics and “HAL” from Cyberdyne. These all provide a certain degree of mobility for wheelchair users with the ultimate goal being to provide alternative ways of travel for increasing the mobility, independency and quality of life of impaired users.

The most integrated examples of prosthesis that I know of come from researchers at the “Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs” in Chicago who are continuously developing techniques that combine myoelectric limbs with nerve transplants to deliver motor control with the patients actually being able to feel the objects by grip or touch.

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  1. Love the article. Although the article highlights applications in healthcare, cyborgization also has applications is other fields including military, labor, and good old plain individual incentive. Should we be cautious of this type of technology. Never. Should we be cautious of how people use this type of technology. Always.

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