Home » science » Day 12: Brain-Machine Interface: Wearable Robots

Day 12: Brain-Machine Interface: Wearable Robots

From powered exoskeletons for the military to prosthetic devices for sufferers of locked-in syndrome, you just know this technology is coming. Fans of Ironman wait impatiently. According to a 2008 Wired article, though, it may be a while yet. James Kakalios, physics professor/comics fan back then said, “Sadly, nearly all of the features of the Iron Man suit, with one important exception, are not likely to be realized anytime soon.”

A lot can happen in three years in the world of technology, though. In July of this year, E. Paul Zehr, professor of kinesiology (study of human movement) and neuroscience (study of the nervous system), spoke on the subject at this year’s Comic-con. He believes we may be getting close to building Iron Man. We already have mind-prosthetic technology. He admits  the tech is limited by the time lag it takes to transfer the signal from brain to artificial limb. He also mentions the fact that the battery power required for a suit to work would be the size of a room. He considers the way computers have shrunk in size without losing computing power and predicts battery size will shrink in the same way.

I’m not sure why we need Iron Man suits. As per the rules for science fiction movies, no matter what powerful anti-dark side artillery you have, the bad guy will have something that is bigger and badder than you. In the end you win by outsmarting your enemy. But what do I know?

On the more practical side, brain-powered prosthetics and wearable robots may possibly help people with spinal injuries to achieve a relatively normal life. Day to day functioning can be restored by hooking an artificial limb directly to the brain. Whether or not it takes an Iron Man suit to do that, only time will tell. I imagine the full body prosthetic would be helpful as long as it didn’t restrict movement. If it was skin tight, rather than football uniform bulky.

Full body armor would, of course, be an advantage for a soldier. Again, though, it seems so cumbersome, even with on-board hydraulics ensuring the human doesn’t bear the weight. Range of motion seems impaired. Maybe remote control would be the way to go, using brain waves (see image above). By the time all this is worked out, the suit will amount to the same thing as a robot. And of course the other side will have its robots. So what we’re talking about is robot warfare. How effective will that be in human affairs? So what if a few robots get blasted? To have an effect, you have to kill humans that are killable, i.e. without armor. Civilians.

Maybe that’s what warfare is actually all about. Maybe it’s not about guys with guns killing other guys with guns. Maybe it’s just about genocide.

But what do I know?

Thanks for reading. Hey, if you’ve got any leads on weird science, mention them below or contact me through the form. I’ll check ‘em out.

Sue Lange

Sue Lange’s latest ebook, Tritcheon Hash, is full of lapses of logic and weird science. “It’s a wild, good read.” Get your copy from Amazon or read a couple of free chapters at the publisher’s website.

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