February 7, 2013
Bionic Man Shows That Most Human Body Parts Could Be Replaced
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
He´s not quite Steve Austin, but with prosthetic hands, hips, knees and even a face, Rex is the closest thing to a bionic man that science has yet to produce.
Built by scientists from the Shadow robotics team, Rex is being shown off more as proof that medical science is getting closer to being able to synthesize and stitch together human body parts.
The Shadow team recently unveiled Rex at the Science Museum in London to announce the opening of a new exhibit which will investigate the perception of human identity.
“We were surprised how many of the parts of the body can be replaced,” explained Rich Walker, the managing director of team Shadow, speaking to The Independent.
“There are some vital organs missing, like the stomach, but 60 to 70 percent of a human has effectively been rebuilt.”
For Swiss social psychologist Bertholt Meyer, Rex is the product of a personal journey. Having been born without a left hand, Meyer says medical science is finally at a point where a bionic human is on the horizon.
"I have looked for new bionic technologies out of personal interest for a long time and I think that until five or six years ago nothing much was happening,” Meyer told The Independent. “Suddenly we are at a point where we can build a body that is great and beautiful in its own special way.”
Meyer shares a few characteristics with Rex, namely a prosthetic left hand and a face. The Shadow team had asked Meyer if they could model Rex´s face after his own, resulting in a resemblance which Meyer called “awkward” as he presented Rex to the Science Museum in London.
Though Rex was assembled as a part of a documentary to be aired on BBC´s Channel 4, his internal body parts hail from Australia, the UK and the US. His eyes and kidneys were developed at the University of California. Rex´s eyes are essentially cameras which send images to a microchip located inside the “retina.” These images are then sent to his “brain” by way of electronic pulses, much like the way a human eye perceives things. Rex´s ear was developed at the Macquarie University in Sydney, and sends vibrations via signals to the electronic brain. Rex even has blood pulsing through artificial veins. This blood, developed at Sheffield University, is made from plastic and is completely infection free.
While Rex is the closest any team has ever gotten to building an entirely bionic man, many believe medical science still has a long way to go.
“We have motors which can lift things but, if you want to mimic the dexterity of a hand, we are not there yet,” said professor Steven Hsiao of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, speaking to the Independent.
"What we are beginning to achieve is building prostheses which look like human body parts, but we are a long way away from making ones which relay sensory information the way the human body does.”
Once medical science improves, as it inevitably will, Meyer says the next step will be tackling the sticky ethical issues which will arise.
“Should I be allowed to cut off my real hand and replace it with something, does that give me an unfair advantage over people who cannot afford this?” asks Meyer.
“I´m not saying that is going to happen but these are questions that should be on the table before that technology becomes available.”