30 June 2011

Will "Bionic Bodies" Offer High-Tech Hope to the Disabled?

On June 28, PBS Newshour ran a segment about technological advances in prostheses -- the use of "bionics" -- that are now being tested with real people (you can view the segment online). The word "bionics" is gradually becoming accepted among researchers as a descriptor of the fusion of biology and electronics -- an apt application for advanced technology prostheses. In the segment, they talk about advances that have come out of military research (including the arm created by Dean Kamen, funded by DARPA). Technologies that aid mobility, manipulation, vision and sight are demonstrated. I highly recommend viewing the piece.
An avid supporter of technology and research, I have high hopes that someday I too will personally benefit -- that in the future my movements will become more and more natural and that I will be able to do more of what I did before. (Ah -- if I could once again ride my mountain bike through the aspen groves of the San Juan Mountains...) For all disabled people, this could improve quality of life and increase our ability to contribute to society.
Whenever the advanced capabilities of new prosthetic limbs are compared to natural limbs, however, I confess I feel a bit angry. This new stuff is amazing and wonderful, yet in the excitement and celebration of the new achievements there needs to be an acknowledgment that there is nothing like the real thing, that there is no real substitute. In the PBS Newshour segment, I was pleased to hear Dean Kamen admit "I don't know anybody today that would say, 'yeah, I'd rather have your arm than the original equipment'," as he raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.


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