A cyborg is a person aided by using an electronic or mechanical device, usually utilizing an implant. Cyborgs used to be something in movies, television, and comic books. Suddenly, with the advent of many new, transformative technologies, science fiction is becoming—science. There are now various ways to upgrade or augment our physical bodies.
From ID-bearing microchips and contact lenses that do more than just fix your vision to smart bones and eyeballs, we have compiled a list of 10 technologies that are bringing us closer to being cyborgs.
10 Robotic Exoskeleton
Roam Robotics and their president, Tim Swift, specialize in inflatable robotic exoskeletons. The company currently boasts two products on its website, Ascend and Forge. Ascend is designed as a medical device, while Forge is currently intended for consumer use.
Ascend is a wearable robotic brace designed to relieve knee pain and improve mobility. According to their website, Ascend has helped patients achieve more mobility, provided pain relief, and increased confidence. The product has been registered with the FDA and adjusts to the wearer’s needs in real-time. Users of Ascend can accomplish tasks they otherwise would not be able to accomplish.
Roam Robotics’ second product, Forge, is designed to enhance human performance. Firefighters, military, police, and outdoorsy-type people could benefit from its usage. Forge is lightweight and straps directly to the leg of the user. Forge also contains control software, adding power when necessary and staying dormant when not. As Roam Robotics says in their advertisement for Forge, “Our mission is to improve human performance.” With the use of Forge, people are improving their athletic performances every day. Roam Robotics inflatable exoskeletons are external ways we are becoming closer to being cyborgs.
9 Artificial Heart
The FDA only approved Carmat’s artificial heart, called AESON, in February of 2021. This was the first time in United States history that a patient received a fully artificial heart transplant. The device is designed to assist people who have biventricular heart failure. In other words, the artificial heart pumps blood since the real heart cannot. Currently, this technology operates as a kind of stop-gap. Patients receive an artificial heart while waiting for a traditional heart transplant. However, down the line, the goal is for Carmat’s artificial hearts to last longer periods, even years.
The device works in a way that is unique from different artificial hearts. AESON features automatic adjustments. By reacting to biological signs, the artificial heart adjusts the rate and flow of blood. Huge obstacles with heart transplants, in general, include strokes and blood clots. Carmat’s design contains a biological lining (from a cow) that addresses this concern. AESON receives power from a battery pack that the patient carries at all times. The battery pack is connected through the skin. AESON also allows users easy access to blood pressure levels, crucial for peace of mind.
A pacemaker is designed to prevent complications from irregular heartbeats. Dr. William Chardack, Dr. Andrew Gage, and engineer Wilson Greatbatch invented the electronic pacemaker in 1958. In 1960, the first electronic pacemaker was implanted into an older man. He lived with the pacemaker for another ten months with no noted complications. He truly must have been the first cyborg!
Pacemakers have improved exponentially since their initial invention and continue to be used by millions of patients today. Pacemakers are used so regularly today that they are seen as commonplace. However, wearers of the device are quite aware of their cyborg qualities. Pacemaker users need to be aware of x-ray machines, microwaves, and even cell phones. If a pacemaker stops working properly, the user may be in grave danger of stroke or even heart failure.
7 IQ Buds
I know, I know. I got excited when I read the name of this product as well. Unfortunately, IQ Buds and IQ Buds Boost do not increase your IQ. IQ Buds were invented by David Cannington, co-founder of Nuheara. Nuheara is an Australian-based company that, according to their website, is “transforming the way people hear by creating personalized hearing solutions that are multifunctional, accessible and affordable to an underserviced global market.” IQ Buds and IQ Buds Boost are their primary products. Designed to augment hearing and reduce background noise, the original IQ Buds was introduced in 2016, and the IQ Buds Boost was first available in 2018.
IQ Buds allow users to increase the volume of desired sounds and reduce the sounds of others. While it is not a replacement for a hearing aid, it does share some functionality. IQ Buds work a lot like traditional wireless earbuds. They are connected to a device via Bluetooth technology. The user can select a setting. The settings include “Plane,” “Street,” and “Restaurant” and are designed to dampen the background noise typically associated with those settings. IQ Buds are a few cyborg improvements on this list that can be purchased relatively affordably. You can buy the newest device on Nuheara’s website now. The IQbuds2 MAX is priced currently at $499.
6 Contact Lenses That Measure Glucose Levels
Unlike many other cyborg components on our list, this invention came from a major brand. In 2014, Google (ever heard of them?) submitted a patent for a digital contact lens. While this could potentially lead to all sorts of technological breakthroughs, it was initially focused on monitoring blood sugar (glucose) levels in diabetic patients.
These amazing contact lenses contain sensors in the middle of the lens. Think of a sandwich; the lenses are the bread, and the tiny sensor is the meat. The lenses also contain a very small hole. This hole allows the user’s tears to reach the sensor embedded in the lens. The sensor then communicates that information to another device. This allows diabetes patients an easily accessible way to check their blood sugar levels. Diabetic patients sometimes have to prick their fingers many times a day. Google’s lenses are helping diabetic patients see their way to a brighter, more convenient future.
5 A Microchip That Can Store Data in Your Hands
With smartphones and devices always at the ready, it can seem like the world is in your hands. While this is just a turn of phrase, some people have taken this very seriously. The earliest person credited with implanting microchips in her hands was Australian scientist Shanit Korporaal. In 2016, she implanted two microchips into her hands, effectively replacing her need to carry IDs, credit cards, and more. The microchips can even remember passwords to log her into her computer and websites.
This has created a cultural movement, particularly in Australia. Korporaal is credited with starting the so-called “biohacker” movement. One of the biggest proponents of this movement, the Swedish company Epicenter, began implanting workers in 2015 using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, according to CNBC.com. The microchips are passive, meaning they do not pick up new information.
4 Smart Bones
IBI, a biotech company headquartered in Switzerland, has worked to create a bone substitute designed to imitate an organic human bone. The product, called SmartBone, was introduced in 2012. According to their website, SmartBone is created by combining a bovine (cow) mineral bone matrix with bioresorbable polymers and collagen fragments.
Furthermore, the SmartBone is designed to have a human-like structure. According to IBI, “it mimics the characteristics of a healthy human bone: biocompatibility, adequate open porosity, high mechanical performance, hydrophilicity.” This incredible material acts like a human bone in many ways and can be used in various medical procedures.
Through the use of electrodes implanted into a patient’s brain, BrainGate has restored some function to the muscles of paralyzed individuals. BrainGate was originally developed by neuroscientists and researchers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
BrainGate has been life-changing for many people who experience paralysis. CNBC.com reports that in 2017, a 53-year-old man named Bill Kochevar (who was paralyzed eight years earlier) had a BrainGate device implanted in his head. According to CNBC, the medical team implanted over 30 electrodes in his arm. Though it took about four months of training, Kochevar has since been able to feed himself, drink for himself, and more. That is truly a marvel. BrainGate has seen a lot of success with its implants and continues to develop more new and exciting technologies while refining BrainGate. However, as promising as this technology is, it is still not developed enough to be available to all patients.
2 Open Artificial Pancreas System
Another exciting new technology to help diabetic patients monitor their blood sugar is OpenAPS (short for open artificial pancreas system). The device was invented by Dana Lewis, who lives with Type 1 Diabetes herself.
OpenAPS gives people with diabetes access to the technology to build their own closed-loop system. According to their website, they offer a less complex, do-it-yourself version of an Artificial Pancreas System. The device works by “communicating with an insulin pump to obtain details of all recent insulin dosing… by communicating with a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to obtain current and recent BG estimates, and by issuing commands to the insulin pump to adjust temporary basal rates as needed.” OpenAPS, like it sounds, is available to all patients, consumers, and manufacturers at no cost. However, being a do-it-yourself product means that it will take some know-how and time to get an OpenAPS system up and running. This is time well spent for the many diabetic users of OpenAPS worldwide.
1 Second Sight and Pixium Vision
When thinking of a cyborg, the first thing that people often think of is a robotic eye (maybe with a laser?!) While that technology is still beyond our reach, some awe-inspiring devices give back some degree of sight to the vision impaired.
Pixium Vision, a French company, has made progress with a device called IRIS. However, Second Sight, a company based in the United States, boasts the first fully bionic, electromechanical eye. Argus II, their most recent device, is intended to provide functional vision. According to their website, “it combines a miniature eye implant with a patient-worn camera and processor to transform how you experience the world.” The website boasts ten years of safety and durability and 350 users worldwide. How cool is that?
Argus II works by receiving information from a small camera mounted to the patient’s glasses. The images are then converted to electrical pulses and transmitted to the retina. From there, the retinal implant stimulates the patient’s retina, sending the information to the user’s brain and simulating sight. This groundbreaking technology does require surgery and recovery time and is far from perfect. However, Argus II represents an exciting new possibility for individuals who have lost their vision. A cyborg with a bionic eye—we really are living in an exciting time for technology.