The Technology of Healing: From Feet To Follicles

Technology Leads to Healing

Back in the mid-seventies a popular TV series called The Six Million Dollar Man featured a badly injured astronaut who had both legs, one arm and an eye replaced by "bionic" enhancements.

At the time it all seemed pretty far-fetched, but forty years later medicine has made some staggering advances. Indeed such is the range of electronic and mechanically-assisted body parts available now, they probably surpass even the wildest of the program-makers' ideas!

From The Ground Up

Anyone who has watched paralympic sports can't fail to be impressed by two things: first, the huge disadvantages that humans are able overcome, and second the technology associated - both in terms of the specialist equipment for wheelchair athletes and the prosthetics for amputees. "Bladerunners" have now become commonplace and Alan Oliveira, despite having no lower legs, has used these advanced carbon-fiber limbs to run the hundred meters in a remarkable 10.77 seconds.

Away from the track, those blades are practically useless (it's extremely difficult to actually stand still), but there are many advances in prosthetic alternatives. Jozef Metelka is known as the man with 13 legs. Although that might sound a little bizarre - perhaps even overkill - there are good reasons for his many options.

Even with all the advanced science and technology at our disposal, we can't yet produce a leg that mimics the one most of us are born with. We can't replicate the tremendous strength and flexibility in a single unit. However, we can create them to suit specific purposes so, for example, when a titanium bolt was found to freeze in the cold conditions associated with skiing, a high-performance plastic was used instead. For mountain biking, a leg with a built-in shock absorber was designed. For road cycling, a streamlined carbon-fiber version, etc.

The same level of ingenuity and skill is being used for hands and arms. The tiny electrical signals that muscles produce can now be used to activate real-life bionics, opening and closing the hand and even allowing use of a pen or computer mouse. Currently, external sensors need to be used (normally attached to the skin), but work has already begun on the idea of brain implants.

Under The Hood

Of course it's not just outside the body where technology has gone hand-in-hand with medical advances. Hip replacements are commonplace. Heart pacemakers are now so small they can be fitted via the femoral artery - in around ten minutes - and without invasive surgery. Fantastic as that might seem, there are now entire plastic hearts available. Currently they are used as temporary replacements until a suitable donor organ can be found, but how long until permanent versions bring waiting lists down to virtually nothing?

And other body parts?Developments in artificial pancreases offer hope to Type 1 diabetes sufferers. Cochlear implants are helping people with all manner of hearing problems. Light sensitive micro-chips are bringing hope to blind and partially sighted. Deep brain implants are restoring motor functions to those who "freeze" due to Parkinson's Disease.

Facing The World

Sometimes it's just being able to face the world that's a challenge. Today's prosthetics can be electro-mechanical marvels, but often they still look like part of some weird robot.

Fortunately, advances in plastics and "fake" skin have made many items much more wearable - often difficult to tell from natural appendages. There are other less technological, but equally important advances, such as in wig technology for those with alopecia or recovering from radiation or chemotherapy. Human hair is carefully oriented to be truly naturalistic. Methods of attachment vary, taking into account increased skin sensitivity or allowing the wearer to take part in numerous sports.

The Real Six Million Dollar Man

The extraordinary advances in medical science, bionics and prosthetics is underlined by roboticists Rich Walker and Matthew Godden of the UK's Shadow Robot Co. In October 2013 they built what is claimed to be the world's first fully bionic man.

Created entirely from human prosthetics and replacement organs, he not only has working arms and legs but lungs, a heart, a spleen and even a working circulatory systems carrying blood. What's all the more amazing is that although inflation would make our original six million dollar man many times more expensive today, this experimental creation - arguably the closest thing to a human ever built - cost around $1 million.

We're may still be some way from seeing replacements for every part of our bodies, but little seems beyond us. It would appear it's no longer a question of if, but when.

More Stories By Drew Hendricks

Drew Hendricks is a writer, as well as a tech, social media and environmental enthusiast, living in San Francisco. He is a contributing writer at Forbes, Technorati and The Huffington Post.

Latest Stories
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that Kevin Jackson joined the faculty of CloudEXPO's "10-Year Anniversary Event" which will take place on November 11-13, 2018 in New York City. Kevin L. Jackson is a globally recognized cloud computing expert and Founder/Author of the award winning "Cloud Musings" blog. Mr. Jackson has also been recognized as a "Top 100 Cybersecurity Influencer and Brand" by Onalytica (2015), a Huffington Post "Top 100 Cloud Computing Experts on Twitter" (2013) and a "Top 50 C...
Daniel Jones is CTO of EngineerBetter, helping enterprises deliver value faster. Previously he was an IT consultant, indie video games developer, head of web development in the finance sector, and an award-winning martial artist. Continuous Delivery makes it possible to exploit findings of cognitive psychology and neuroscience to increase the productivity and happiness of our teams.
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
As DevOps methodologies expand their reach across the enterprise, organizations face the daunting challenge of adapting related cloud strategies to ensure optimal alignment, from managing complexity to ensuring proper governance. How can culture, automation, legacy apps and even budget be reexamined to enable this ongoing shift within the modern software factory? In her Day 2 Keynote at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Aruna Ravichandran, VP, DevOps Solutions Marketing, CA Technologies, was jo...
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
Poor data quality and analytics drive down business value. In fact, Gartner estimated that the average financial impact of poor data quality on organizations is $9.7 million per year. But bad data is much more than a cost center. By eroding trust in information, analytics and the business decisions based on these, it is a serious impediment to digital transformation.
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
"NetApp is known as a data management leader but we do a lot more than just data management on-prem with the data centers of our customers. We're also big in the hybrid cloud," explained Wes Talbert, Principal Architect at NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Since we launched LinuxONE we learned a lot from our customers. More than anything what they responded to were some very unique security capabilities that we have," explained Mark Figley, Director of LinuxONE Offerings at IBM, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
I love the beginning of the year. It is always enjoyable to see people's predictions for trends in the coming year. Publications like Fortune, CNN Money, Washington Post and the Atlantic speculate about what gadgets and technologies are going to take off in popularity this year, psychics predict which celebrities will have babies and fall in love, and I start to think about trends like DevOps and where the software delivery industry is headed next.CollabNet, Eric Robertson, predicted.