From Star Wars’ Darth Vader to Dr Who’s Cybermen, bionic men and the replication of human processes represent the potentially grim consequences of ‘playing God.’ In the Science Museum in London, however, Rex proudly declares himself “the million dollar man,” showcasing the realistic, positive benefits of his creation. Rex, the nickname for the bionic man (or Robotic Exoskeleton), was originally assembled by a team of roboticists for the Channel 4 programme “How to Build a Bionic Man”. He now resides in the Science Museum as a model of the latest advances in prosthetic medical technology. Such prosthetic advances include an artificial pancreas, kidney, spleen and trachea, and a functional blood circulatory system alongside his robot limbs that enable basic movement. The bionic man may not literally be “the million dollar man,” but the machine has cost more than £500,000 to make; scientists who built him believe it’s worth it in the long run, an example for those in the medical field that replicating parts of the human body with the same technology is increasingly possible.
One scientist is particularly invested in the future benefits Rex presents—Bertolt Meyer. A Swiss psychologist born without a left hand, Meyer himself is a beneficiary of the medical prosthetics industry and has testified to the enormous developments seen within Rex. In an interview with The Sunday Morning Herald, Meyer explained “I’ve looked around for new bionic technologies, out of personal interest, for a very long time and I think that until five or six years ago nothing much was happening. . . Then suddenly we are now at a point where we can build a body that is great and beautiful in its own special way.” Meyer hosts “How to Build a Bionic Man,” showing not only scientific advancements, but also what it means to be human and where technology is leading us in future.
Despite advancements, the medical and science communities are far from perfectly replicating the tiny complexities of the human body, as Professor Steve Hsiao of the John Hopkins University in Baltimore attests: “We have motors which can lift things but, if you want to mimic the dexterity of a hand, we are not there yet . . . What we are beginning to achieve is building prostheses which look like human body parts, but we are a long way from making ones which relay sensory information the way the human body does.”
“How to Build a Bionic Man” is online now through the Channel 4 website and the exhibit runs until March 13th, so if you catch a free hour or find yourself in London, be sure to check out Rex.
Photo credit: Mundo33