"Iron Man" fans rejoice: real exoskeletons are coming. Japanese company Cyberdyne has plans to start selling their model, the HAL-5 Robot Suit later this year. The American company Sarcos has its own prototype out, too, so the race is on for new generations of exoskeletons that can do everything humans an do, only better (and fly, too). But while you're watching videos of the two exos performing jaw-dropping feats of strength, MIT biomechatronics researcher Hugh Herr is getting ready to blow your mind by building building prosthetic limbs that could have all the super powers of exos. For the moment he's focused on helping people with disabilities, but he thinks it won't be long before we'll be implanting "bions" inside our body and considering swapping out our biological legs for the shiny new pair in the storefront window.
Herr says we're less than ten years away from the leg-swapping scenario, and even closer to bions that directly sample the signals our brains send to our limbs to move them. Check out his awesome video here, or read below for the coolest snippets:
Probably two years from now, I will have a device implanted into my body called bions that measure the extent that my spinal cord has activated the muscles in my biological leg. Those signals will be sent out to a robotic artificial ankle system. I will be able to think and move my ankle...[Herr lost his lower legs to frostbite when he was 15]
I believe in the next decade we will have artificial legs that are better than human legs for running. The best amputee runner for the 100-dash is only a second slower than the world record with biological legs, and that's just with carbon composite, dumb passive springs...
We'll see this gradual merging of the human and technology and what will come out of that is a hybrid human that's actually better, using certain metrics. As tissue engineering technologies progress, we can imagine eventually replacing certain components of the prosthesis with biological materials.
It'll be a future where, when we architect a machine we'll ask 'for this component, should we use skin or should we use steel or a composite? what should we use? Inevitably I believe we'll end up with hybrid devices because it won't always be optimal to use synthetic components, nor will it always be optimal to use biological components.