DEVELOPMENTS IN THE PROSTHETICS TECHNOLOGY
In the Bond movie Skyfall, there is an alarming moment when the villain of the piece removes his prosthetic mouth to reveal his mutilated face. We are appalled, but marvel at the possibility. Could it be possible to replace parts of our body and even improve on the original? The UK’s Channel 4, have broadcast a documentary called ‘How to Build a Bionic Man’, featuring psychologist Bertolt Meyer, who himself has a bionic hand. ‘Rex’, the Bionic Man, brings together scientists working at the pioneering edge of research to test the very limits of the latest prosthetic technology.
Displayed at the London’s Science Museum at some point, Richard Walker and Matthew Godden from Shadow Robot, leading UK roboticists, built Rex. Costing almost $1 million, the two-metre tall artificial man boasts 28 of the latest artificial limbs and organs, including a 3D printed skull, a synthetic blood circulatory system and artificial pancreas, kidney, spleen and trachea.
Walker describes how their work began when the production company got in touch. His team proposed to get hold of the state of the art prosthetics and build a human from it. As Walker says, ‘see if it stands up and walks!’ Their goal was to showcase the latest artificial body parts, all of which can be used in the real world. Rex was born after two and half months of late nights and lots of pizza.
Then there are the more conventional prosthetics like the artificial hand, which uses signals from the residual nerves in the human body for grasping and gripping. Walker explains, ‘to get the hand to grasp something, we had to fake the human nerve signals that it would look for in the human body.’
REPLACING FAILED ORGANS
Walker is stunned by how well technology is being used to build organs to function effectively, when the original organ fails. So the artificial pancreas supplies insulin and when insulin levels drop, insulin is released. When the insulin level rises again, the mechanical pancreas can soak it up, replicating the real pancreas.
If the Bionic Man can be built again, Walker predicts that we will be even more stunned by what prosthetic technology can do for our bodies.