Author: Riya Kathpalia
From: New Delhi, India
Faster? Stronger? More powerful? Bionic bodies—and what they may be capable of—have captivated the human mind for centuries. From the bumbling Inspector Gadget to the near‐indestructible Terminator, the idea of using technology to build a ‘better human’ has resulted in continuous technological advances.
What exactly does the word ‘bionics’ mean? Well, ‘bio’ means life and ‘nics’ to the electronics. It is the study of mechanical systems that function like living organisms or parts of living organisms. In this context, Artificial limbs, or prostheses, are used to replace a missing body part which may have been lost due to trauma, disease or congenital defect. The type of prosthesis a person can use is dependent on the individual, including the cause of amputation or limb loss, and the location of the missing extremity. The bionics industry has grown along four major application areas: vision, hearing, orthopedics and a small, motley group of implants that augment cardiac and neurological functions.
1. Vision Bionics
The bionic eye—or visual neuro prosthesis, as vision bionics are sometimes called—are bioelectronic implants that restore functional vision to people suffering from partial or total blindness.The prosthesis consists of a microelectronic array that is implanted in the retina, a wearable camera and an image processing unit.
2. Orthopedic Bionics
Orthopedic bionics are designed to restore motor functionality (not necessarily sensory functionality) to the physically challenged. Bionic limbs are replacing prosthetic limbs, which were standard fare for more than 100 years. Despite notable innovations that resulted in lighter devices and better designs, prosthetic limbs did not provide the necessary functional restoration that bionic devices now do. A bionic limb is interfaced with a patient’s neuromuscular system for limb control—flexing, bending and grasping—using the brain. A similar functional pathway exists here: The damaged peripheral nerves are bypassed and a new electronic pathway connects the mechatronic limb with the brain.
3. Auditory Bionics
Cochlear implants, auditory brainstem implants and auditory midbrain implants are the three main classes of neuroprosthetic devices for people suffering from profound hearing loss. Auditory bionics create an artificial link between the source of sound and the brain—in this case, with a microelectronic array implanted either in the cochlea or the brain stem.
Today, researchers are striving to develop lighter, smaller, better‐controlled, more lifelike and affordable options. What’s different about the new generation of prosthetic limbs is their union with bionic technology, and the way they combine fields of study as diverse as electronics, biotechnology, hydraulics, computing, medicine, nanotechnology and prosthetics. A relative new space in the bionics industry is robotic exoskeletons. As the name indicates (and as popularized in “Iron Man” films and comic books), these are electromechanical structures that patients wear to benefit from “motorized muscles.”Technically, the field is known as biomechatronics, an applied interdisciplinary science that works to integrate mechanical elements and devices with biological organisms such as human muscles, bones, and the nervous systems. Who knows what next mindblowing discovery is going to be in the field of Bionics, don’t forget to be updated and explore more about the subject! ;)
About the Author: Riya Kathpalia
Riya is a junior in high school. She is interested in medicine and biology and wants to pursue a career in the respective subjects. She hopes that the epistemology of the evolving discoveries in the field of Science reaches everyone out there!