'Bionic man' walks, breathes with artificial parts

Oct 11, 2013 by Barbara Ortutay
In this Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 photo provided by Showtime, Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist for the University of Zurich, poses for a photo in New York. Meyer is the face of the the Bionic Man and is featured in the Smithsonian Channel original documentary, "The Incredible Bionic Man." (AP Photo/Showtime, Joe Schram)

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, after all. We have the technology. The term "bionic man" was the stuff of science fiction in the 1970s, when a popular TV show called "The Six Million Dollar Man" chronicled the adventures of Steve Austin, a former astronaut whose body was rebuilt using artificial parts after he nearly died.

Now, a team of engineers have assembled a robot using artificial organs, limbs and other body parts that comes tantalizingly close to a true "bionic man." For real, this time.

The artificial "man" is the subject of a Smithsonian Channel documentary that airs Sunday, Oct. 20. Called "The Incredible Bionic Man," it chronicles engineers' attempt to assemble a functioning body using artificial parts that range from a working kidney and circulation system to cochlear and retina implants.

The parts hail from 17 manufacturers around the world. This is the first time they've been assembled together, says Richard Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot Co. and the lead roboticist on the project.

"(It's) an attempt to showcase just how far medical science has gotten," he says.

The robot making appearances in the U.S. for the first time this week. Having crossed the Atlantic tucked inside two metal trunks—and after a brief holdup in customs—the bionic man will strut his stuff at the New York Comic Con festival on Friday.

Walker says the robot has about 60 to 70 percent of the function of a human. It stands six-and-a-half feet tall (1.85-meter tall) and can step, sit and stand with the help of a Rex walking machine that's used by people who've lost the ability to walk due to a spinal injury. It also has a functioning heart that, using an electronic pump, beats and circulates artificial blood, which carries oxygen just like human blood. An artificial, implantable kidney, meanwhile, replaces the function of a modern-day dialysis unit.

Although the parts used in the robot work, many of them are a long way from being used in humans. The kidney, for example, is only a prototype. And there are some key parts missing: there's no digestive system, liver, or skin. And, of course, no brain.

The bionic man was modeled after Bertolt Meyer, a 36-year-old social psychologist at the University of Zurich who was born without his lower left arm and wears a bionic prosthesis. The man's face was created based on a 3D scan of Meyer's face.

"We wanted to showcase that the technology can provide aesthetic prostheses for people who have lost parts of their faces, for example, their nose, due to an accident or due to, for example, cancer," Meyer says.

Meyer says he initially felt a sense of unease when he saw the for the first time.

"I thought it was rather revolting to be honest," he says. "It was quite a shock to see a face that closely resembles what I see in the mirror every morning on this kind of dystopian looking machine."

He has since warmed up to it, especially after the "man" was outfitted with some clothes from the U.K. department store Harrods.

And the cost? As it turns out, this comes cheaper than his $6-million-dollar sci-fi cousin. While the parts used in the experiment were donated, their value is about $1 million.

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User comments : 13

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Neinsense99
1 / 5 (6) Oct 11, 2013
Brave bionic man, I hereby dub thee Sir Stephen of Austin, and grant thee the rank of Colonel. Remember, with this great power comes the great responsibility of saving the world from implausible threats on a weekly basis for several months of the year.
Mr_Science
1 / 5 (10) Oct 11, 2013
This sounds a bit more like Commander Data then Steve Austin. Data was an android where Steve was a cyborg. Excluding the bad reference it's really pretty cool.
Andrew Palfreyman
1 / 5 (10) Oct 11, 2013
Can't even make the tea
krundoloss
1 / 5 (8) Oct 11, 2013
This is neat, it reminds me of the movie "Bicentennial Man", where a unique, self aware robot keeps developing technology to make himself more human, and the parts he made actually worked as implants in regular humans. This is the opposite approach, but amusing still.
Neinsense99
1 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2013
This sounds a bit more like Commander Data then Steve Austin. Data was an android where Steve was a cyborg. Excluding the bad reference it's really pretty cool.

I would not have referenced that show if the story had not. I'm quite aware of the difference.
Mr_Science
1 / 5 (10) Oct 11, 2013
I would not have referenced that show if the story had not. I'm quite aware of the difference.

I was commenting about the article, not your comment. In fact I had not read your comment until after I posted mine.
NeutronicallyRepulsive
1 / 5 (6) Oct 11, 2013
It's all coming together Atlas, Bionic man, etc. scary, but exciting.
Sinister1811
2 / 5 (12) Oct 11, 2013
I am always cynical towards these things. How long before it actually helps those people who can't move, can't breathe on their own etc?
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Oct 11, 2013
No brain?

God, if it can compose nonsense Conservative political propaganda it could replace RyggTard, NumenTard, UbVonTard and the others.

Spooky.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2013
I am always cynical towards these things. How long before it actually helps those people who can't move, can't breathe on their own etc?

Not going to happen without a lot of work. Stuff like this can serve to inspire people, encourage the continued effort. But you have a good point. People want to think it's just around the corner. I'm still waiting on my Jetson's flying car.
Sinister1811
2 / 5 (12) Oct 12, 2013
I am always cynical towards these things. How long before it actually helps those people who can't move, can't breathe on their own etc?

Not going to happen without a lot of work. Stuff like this can serve to inspire people, encourage the continued effort. But you have a good point. People want to think it's just around the corner. I'm still waiting on my Jetson's flying car.


Couldn't agree more. I would give you 10 stars for that. What good is the technology if it isn't helping anyone? Yeah same here - they said there'd be flying cars by the year 2000.
Sinister1811
2.1 / 5 (11) Oct 12, 2013
It seems I've upset Mr. "perrycomo" with my last comment. What I meant (but didn't say) is that this technology takes a long time until it's available to people. Perry probably went to buy one today.
Kron
1 / 5 (11) Oct 12, 2013
Six-and-a-half feet tall is 78 inches. 1.85 m is roughly 72.5 inches.

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