Remember the TV shows The Bionic Man and Woman? These folks had implants that gave them amazing super-human strength, speed, hearing, and vision.
“Bionics is a term which refers to flow of ideas from biology to engineering and vice versa…In medicine, Bionics means the replacement or enhancement of organs or other body parts by mechanical versions. Bionic implants differ from mere prostheses by mimicking the original function very closely, or even surpassing it. (Wikipedia)
Believe it or not, bionic eyes are now a reality, at least in a research stage.
MIT Technology Review, 25 January 2008, reports that “researchers have created an electronic contact lens that could be used as a display or medical sensor.”
Although, this bionic eye cannot see miles away like a telescope yet, it was created to see if it would be possible to fulfill two primary purposes:
- Augmented reality display—a “display that could superimporse images onto a person’s field of view, while allowing her to see the real world…soldiers could use the technology to see information about their environment, collected from sensors. Or civilians could use the electronic lens as a cell-phone display, to see who is calling and to watch videos during a commute.”
- Noninvasive medical monitor—“use the lens as a sensor that could monitor chemical levels in the body and notify the user if they indicate signs of disease…many indicators of health can be monitored from the surface of the eye. The live cells on the eye are in direct contact with blood serum, which contains biomarkers for disease.”
How is the bionic eye made?
It “incorporates metal circuitry and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) into a polymer-based lens…a functional circuit that is biologically compatible with the eye.”
What are some of the challenges in making the bionic eye work in the real world?
- Heat—The bionic eye is a functioning circuit and could generate heat that could adversely affect the eye.
- Power—How will the contact lens be powered while worn?
- Size—To create a visible display, the LEDs will have to shrink in size and in the process not break in the lens-shaping process
From a User-centric EA perspective, bionics is one of those incredible fields where end-users really benefit in everyday functions, in life-altering ways. Bionics opens up possibilities for people with disabilities (due to illness or accident) that are nothing short of miraculous. Imagine people being able to walk, look, hear, and so on not only on par with healthy individuals, but maybe even with an edge. Of course, this could open up all sorts of ethical dilemmas. If we think Olympians taking steroids is an issue, we haven’t seen nothing yet. Bionics is a field that is only just beginning, but it will have enormous implications for process improvement and reengineering based on new incredible capabilities of those that have these implants. Bionics is an example par excellence of technology enabling process (in this case, the very elements of mechanical human processes).