Bionic limbs are at the forefront of today's prosthetic technology. With the advancements over the years, the industry as a whole is now in a period of extreme development. However, with new technology on the horizon, are these new, more intrusive methods likely to attract the attention of amputees and demand new, more experimental ways of helping those with limb loss and limb difference?
Our current capabilities
The prosthetic industry of today is vastly different to that of only a decade ago. Ten years ago, multi-articulating hands were only just entering the market, now there are a variety of options for amputees to choose from, including the world's most lifelike, functional and easy to use multi-articulating hand; the bebionic small hand by Steeper. Despite the variety, all of these hands share the same characteristics; they are hyper-realistic, multi-functioning and aesthetically impressive prosthetic limbs which attract a vast amount of attention. With demand growing for these types of prostheses, it is of no surprise that limb companies are constantly in a state of research and development, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. However, as we become closer and closer to approximating the function of human limbs, experts within the industry are under pressure to answer whether the visions of science fiction should be brought closer to reality and whether ethically, we should be pioneering new technology that could be developed to produce a machine that is better than a human hand?
Tackling this subject head on has been bebionic user, Nicky Ashwell. Born without her right hand, Nicky had to find ways of adapting to life's challenges with one hand and just 'make do'. Now, as a bebionic small user Nicky is learning that life is easier with two hands; from riding her bike to opening her purse simple tasks are now much easier. As the first user of bebionic small, Nicky has been at the forefront of some interesting discussion topics. None more so, than the recent Human Enhancement soundbite from E27. Whilst human enhancement was once confined to fiction, acceptance of new and more intrusive technologies means that they are slowly growing in popularity. However, with the rise of intrusive enhancements, should we be nervous about the ability to enhance ourselves or should we instead embrace the future and the exciting possibilities that may be ahead for humankind?
As our interest grows with bionic technology, leading experts within the field predict a more diverse and intrusive prosthetic offering in the future. Not content with a versatile and functional limb, users will begin to expect and demand more; including sense of touch and predictive movement. Whilst it might sound like a long way into the future, research is already underway on not only creating a bionic limb, but the idea that one day we may be able to regrow a limb ourselves.
A recent study by the University of Washington is researching just this and whether we could in fact regrow a lost limb and what impact, if any, this could have on human amputees. The theory behind the study is based on the genetic makeup of the acorn worms. They have the capability to regrow every major part of their body and, as such may hide the secrets to whether this level of biological regeneration could in fact be replicated within humans. Regeneration is common among many animals, with amphibians and fish being the most robust, humans also have the capability to regrow some organs and skin cells, but have lost the capability, through evolution, of reforming whole body parts. However, through further research, it is hoped that more answers can be ascertained as to the parts of the cells that are responsible for such impressive limb regrowth and whether, through advances in biological technology the future of prosthetics may indeed take a different path and no doubt, such bionic marvels will increasingly find their way into our lives and our bodies.