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Accessorizing Humanity

February 22, 2007

Recently, media has been abuzz with several major breakthroughs in connecting the human nervous system to external electronics.  Most of the approaches focus on replacing lost limbs, or restoring function lost by paralysis.   For limb replacement, main stream news has focused on several stories of people who have already received and begun to work with new artificial limbs.   So far the technology isn’t direct connect, and requires remapping of nerves to other muscle areas of the body, like an area of the chest, and then using external sensors to detect when that muscle is stimulated, and translate the movement to the artificial limb.   I would imagine that shortly, there will be direct map to silicon, followed by the ability to implant subcutaneously with just an external plug at the skin level for plugging in the control.   One could speculate that this branch will evolve and morph to allow other accessories to be plugged in – perhaps communication / information devices, or perhaps direct vehicle control systems.  

Ever since watching the science fiction movie “aliens”, I’ve been interested in the concept of a powered suit suitable for construction / material handling operation.  As a Zen master might say “Be the forklift….”   In the movie, and thus far in practicality, our control systems are far too crude to manage balance with joysticks and switches, but perhaps a connection that mapped direction to neural controls could allow people to plug in and directly pilot all kinds of machinery and vehicles.   In the last 200 years, the lag between science fiction and fact has been reduced to a matter of decades.

The following video opens the imagination to the feasibility of this at a consumer level.  Today the technology is capable of restoring lost function to perhaps that of a very fit human, but in the not too distant future, will powered suits become a consumer product?  How would they impact our daily lives?  Wouldn’t something like this be handy to move that heavy sofa-bed down from your third floor apartment on moving day?  If consumerized, I’m sure there will be numerous hacker websites that will reverse engineer a number of the sub-component technologies and allow individuals to add new functions and capabilities.   After all, dozens of sites like this spring up to help people re-purpose even the most rudimentary of consumer goods like the Furby

Youtube has blocked embedding for this vid, you’ll just have to click the link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6nX5q3gVUM

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