Bionics, Biotics and the Upcoming Revolution

Bionics is an excellent, emerging field with inputs from the biological & the electronic sciences. Biotics is even newer and has more diverse contributors in solid state physics, microelectronics, organic chemistry, electrochemistry, molecular biology, information technology (including automation) to all areas of biology. Both of these areas emerged due to advancements in genetics & biotechnology.

The decoding, reading & writing of “the language of life” is as important a turning point in the human history as had been the origin of language itself.

“I cannot overstate the importance of biomimetics work. Nature has been conducting evolutionary experiments for millions of years, so if we’re lucky enough to find something close to what we require in nature, then it’s very likely to have been highly optimized, and we’re unlikely to do much better”.

— Greg Parker, University of Southampton

Replacing sensory systems

Cochlear implants have given thousands of patients who were completely deaf their hearing back, so that they can interact and communicate freely again with their family and friends. They are used by post-lingually deaf people to regain some comprehension of speech and other sounds as well as by pre-lingually deaf children to enable them to gain spoken language skills.

Many research groups are also exploring different approaches to retinal implants, in order to restore vision to the blind. Dr. Mohamad Sawan, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, has been working on a visual prosthesis to be implanted into the human cortex. The basic principle is stimulating the visual cortex by implanting a silicium microchip on a network of electrodes made of biocompatible materials and in which each electrode injects a stimulating electrical current in order to provoke a series of luminous points to appear (an array of pixels) in the field of vision of the sightless person.

In 2010, the first patient has been implanted with a vestibular implant to alleviate defects in his balance system.

Utilizing the functioning of sensory systems

Would you like to fashion smart clothing that adapts to changing temperatures? Pinecones respond to higher humidity by opening their scales (to disperse their seeds). The ‘smart’ fabric does the same thing, opening up when the wearer is warm and sweating, and shutting tight when cold.

Nanosensors patrolling your bloodstream for the first sign of an imminent stroke or heart attack, releasing anticlotting or anti-inflammatory drugs to stop it in its tracks would be one of the innovations revolutionizing medicine in the years to come.

Cell phones that display your vital signs and take ultrasound images of your heart or abdomen would be common in the not so distant future.

Genetic scans of malignant cells that match your cancer to the most effective treatment. All these may look straight out of some sci-fi flick but reality would catch up with them soon.

Bionic Beetle, Photo credits: Michel Maharbiz
Bionic Beetle, Photo credits: Michel Maharbiz

Wildlife and electronics

Dolphins swim with great propulsive efficiency as they can control turbulence by moving their skins. US Air Force is making ICs & microsensors that’ll turn plane wings into sensitive electronic skin that could reduce turbulence drag.

Michel Maharbiz equipped a giant flower beetle with a processor and implanting electrodes that deliver electrical jolts to its brain and to its wing muscles, creating a living machine whose flight can be wirelessly controlled.

Researchers studied the wing structure of the blue morpho butterfly and the way it reflects light. It was then mimicked to create an RFID tag that can be read through water and on metal. The wing structure of butterflies has also inspired the creation of new nanosensors to detect explosives.

Beyond artificial intelligence

Tremendous advancements in biotics may perhaps lead to a “symbiotic” man, directly connected by his own nervous system to miniature computers. He’d be able to tap through communication networks into any giant memory from anywhere on earth, or to communicate directly with any individual. This interface will be achieved by logic circuits compatible with living tissues and operate at the request of an internal command. He may possess artificial senses viz. he may see in the IR or detect minute radioactivity.

Will the Symbiotic Man, related physically & biotechnologically to machines, constitute a distinct species, eventually replacing the Homo sapiens?


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