What is the first task that you do every morning? No, not brushing your teeth. You check out your phones with your eyes holding it with your hands. I do that too; you are not alone. But not everyone is gifted with a pair of hands and some are unfortunate to have lost them. What if I told you it is possible to give these people a new pair of working robotic hands? This is called Bionics and it is high time that we rethink the extent of human capacity with the advent of it. Aren’t you curious enough to know more about this?

In this article, you would get an understanding on Bionics, the difference between prosthetics and Bionics and why it is better, the various parts that have been reconstructed using Bionics and finally get a sneak peek at its future. At the end of this article, you will be curious enough to do more research on this field as it is one of the most critical applications of robotics.

What is Bionics?

Bionics is a field in robotics that deals with the creation of robots/robotic parts to construct parts of living animals. They take inspiration from the existing system in living things (not restricted to humans) like the shape of limbs and fingers, with a view to assist or replace parts of the system or create a whole new system.

Bionics is a portmanteau of two words: Biology and Electronics. It is a culmination of these two fields which make it possible to replicate actual parts of a living system. For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on Human Bionics although Animal Bionics is a reality. Bionics improve the lives of various people who are now able to do things which they never could.

Wait a minute, this sounds similar to Prosthetics isn’t it? Have they released the same product with a less cool name? No, that’s not the case. These two have a significant difference between them.

What is the difference between Prosthetics and Bionics?

Before discussing the difference, let us take a look at their similarities - Both are designed to replace missing body parts and help in restoring partial mobility. So what makes them different? A prosthetic is a feature that is attached to the human body as a replacement for a lost body part. Though they may look similar to a real body part, prosthetics offer no reception of senses to that part of the body, in essence, you could see the body part but you couldn’t control it with your brain. Whereas on the other hand, a Bionic can receive signals from the brain and the bionic part could act accordingly. It is a one way reception of senses.

Do an activity now, close your fist and act as if you have no fingers. The brain sends signals to flex your fingers but you don’t have any. This is where a bionic hand could act upon. You could see your hand being flexed. But on the downside, you cannot feel it. This is because the movements of the muscles’ signals cannot be sent back to the brain.

Hence it is worth undergoing Artificial Limb Transitions Between Prosthetics and Bionics if you wish to restore your mobility. You could attain at least one way sense reception as opposed to no sense reception in prosthetic limbs.

Robotics

What is the technology that drives this?

Human Body parts are reconstructed with robotic pieces and concepts of electronics are used to make the bionic a part of the human body. Bionics depend upon a process called electromyography which is basically controlling an external part with the signals from your brain with the help of existing muscles.

  • The brain sends out a signal to control the bionic.
  • An artificial electrode in the bionic senses these signals
  • An integrated controller is used to translate these signals into machine/robot usable form
  • The effectors(for instance, robotic fingers) are given this signal to produce the movement.

It takes some time for the brain to get used to this and the response time is slower than a normal human being’s but it is an advancement to prosthetics in restoring the lost mobility of a person. It takes a lot of wiring, programming to implement this since even the simplest of actions requires the usage of a lot of muscles and nerves.

What parts can be replaced?

Various parts of the body, that are either damaged or lost, can be replaced with the help of bionics. The most notable include lower and upper limbs, fingers, ankles and the like. Let us take a look at it. The first ever bionic was the pacemaker. Canadian electrical engineer Dr John Hopps invented the first external cardiac pacemaker. It’s about the size of a television set and must be plugged into a wall outlet. Then it was improved by Dr Ake Senning, a Swedish surgeon and medical engineer to implant the pacemaker into the body of the patient.

The limbs and the fingers are commercially produced by many companies. Hero Arm is an advanced bionic that can be attached or detached whenever needed. They 3D print each and every product according to the requirements of the user. Yes, you could have your own Iron Man Arm.

We’ve all seen a pirate(not in real life) with his patched eye and a wooden leg. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do things with comfort using his wooden leg. They are not designed to suit the needs of the pirate. What he could’ve done is opted for an Advanced Bionic Leg which will help him walk the plank better without falling. These bionic legs are offered by various companies for people with differing needs. Did we say we could also fix the pirate’s patchy eye with a Bionic eye? Argus II is a treatment to the retina with bionics offered by Second Sight. These are easy to fix with the help of a surgeon and could even be programmed to suit your personal needs. Cosmetic upgrades for the bionics are also present to make the bionic more lifelike. It would be almost impossible to distinguish the bionic from the real body part.

Certain parts of the body necessary for the surgery are constructed with robotic pieces. They offer better flexibility and freedom from pain. A few examples for these would be Artificial shoulder joints, knee joints, hip flexor to name a few. Limbs are also designed for paralympic athletes to increase their athleticity. The most notable example for this would be disgraced Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. Known as the blade runner, he was also called as the fastest man with no legs. All of this was possible with the help of his artificial legs designed for running.

Robotics

What does the future have in its store?

Earlier, we had mentioned the difference between prosthetics and bionics and discussed the reception of senses. But we hadn’t mentioned anything about two way movement of senses (Transmission and Reception) by the Bionic. A device that is capable of both transmission and reception of signals from it to the brain is a Cybotic Device and the resulting synthesis of the device and human is called a Cyborg.

A cybotic device should transmit and receive signals so well that it should seem like a normal part of the body. In other words, a perfect cyborg is one where he/she senses and acts like a normal. A cybotic device uses the concept of Proprioception, the self awareness of a body part due to the reflex actions of muscles, to make the brain aware of the body part.

Refer to this brilliant TED talk, How we'll become cyborgs and extend human potential by Hugh Herr, to know more about Cyborgs and their working.

Bionic exoskeleton is the future. Muscles will be augmented to recognize these exoskeleton. Future may also bring additional parts to humans like wings to improve the usage of humans and take a step forward in humanity. There are endless possibilities to improve the capabilities of humans with the help of these devices. The signals of the brain could be possibly altered with the help of an artificial device to improve the quality of actions. This will be a step forward in treating conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and the like. Works and researches are still in progress to perfect cybotic devices. Separate lifeless robotic body parts will synthesize with the human body to form an ecosystem. It is sure that bionic and cybotic devices will be an integral part of the human body in the coming years.

Bionics is the use of electronics to replace the biological parts of the body. There is a growing demand for it to help people with disabilities. Bionics help in restoring at least partial mobility of the body part. Various body parts ranging from limbs, fingers and ankles to even eyes, ears and heart can be replaced with bionic parts. From giving vision to the blind to potentially curing Parkinson’s disease with electronic brain implants, bionic science is indeed producing astonishing results. The motive is to have no people suffering from external disabilities.

It may even be possible to restore the full functionality of the lost body part, making him a cyborg. There is no need to have a sense of endangerment when you hear the term cyborg. They are just humans who have responsive body parts. With the advent of cybotic devices, it may be time to rethink the capability of the human body. Who knows, in the future, we may have humans flying in the air with their artificial wing-like structures or we may have ironman-esque people saving lives like robotics does.

Do you wish to be a self made Iron-Man and know more about Bionics and Robotics and other cool stuff? Visit us at www.rancholabs.com to join our robotics programme.

Vignesh Hariharan

The author is a student of SSN College of Engineering pursuing his Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering. He is a Product Management and Cloud Computing enthusiast. Passionate about Football and watching Manchester City play. Loves to read Agatha Christie and other thriller novels. He writes on Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Space Science for Rancho Labs.