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Tag Archive: cybernetics


Four artists are helping a UK company’s bionic arms become the functioning hands of many with the benefit of stylish designs.  Open Bionics is an entrepreneurial company that has created and fitted hundreds with its advanced, multi-grip bionic arms since their release this April.  Called the Hero Arm,  it’s the next step toward true borg technology and it’s been called a game-changer in health technology alongside genome sequencing, Fitbit, and smartphones.  From kids as young as nine years old who haven’t had arms and hands since birth to amputees of all ages, the 3D printed devices go beyond prosthetics of the past.  With the slogan “We turn disabilities into superpowers,” the company is doing that in more ways than one.  Instead of making the arms look like real arms, they are adding eye-popping designs–a feature praised by their users, who have remarked, “This is a cool way to stand out for all the right reasons.”  Instead of asking “what happened to your hand?” those seeing the Hero Arm on a person for the first time ask “how does that work?”  “Can we shake hands, can we do a fist bump, can I have a photo?”  The difference is a big one for wearers.

Open Bionics boasts the Hero Arm as “the first medically approved 3D printed arm.”  The Hero Arm is a lightweight, powered bionic hand controlled by the wearer’s muscles.  Because muscles generate small electrical signals when they contract, electrodes placed on the surface of the skin can measure muscle movements.  A full suite of tools provides feedback to the user, including posable wrist, posable thumb, and a freeze mode (for use when holding something like a glass), plus proportional control for varying tasks.  Comfortable, adjustable and breathable, the arm can lift more than 15 pounds of weight.  According to the company, the Hero Arm is half the price of its closest competitor.  Still, Open Bionics has stated that it has received donations to be able to provide free Hero Arms for qualifying children residing in the UK–the only place the bionic arms have been approved for sale.  They aren’t covered by the nation’s healthcare system yet and can cost about U.S. $2,500 on up.  Compare that to similar functioning U.S. electrical prosthetics with a cost upward of $50,000 to $100,000, and anyone can see why this product looks like the future of cybernetics.  (You can help a woman get her own Hero Arm via crowdfunding.  Learn more about her story below).

Hero Arms can also be worn with swappable custom covers.  And now Open Bionics has four new styles for wearers to get a Hero Arm that best fits their personality.  Each work shown (above, top, in order), was designed by an artist in Bristol: “Handala” by Daniel Bowler, “Tree Rex” by TRex, “Palette of Patterns” by J West, “Nebular” by Cheba, and “Open Bionics Doodles” by Kid Crayon.  Even more covers are available for the Hero Arm, like the futuristic Deux Ex design (above).  The Deus Ex video games explore human augmentation in a near future world.  Open Bionics partnered with Eidos Montreal, basing the Deux Ex cover on the game’s protagonist Adam Jensen.  (But they issue a disclaimer: It won’t give you the power to smash through walls!).  Check out the future of this technology at the partnership website AugmentedFuture.com.  Candidates for the Hero Arm can see customization options at the Open Bionics website here.

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Elysium Poster

We included the new Matt Damon sci-fi vehicle Elysium in our list of twenty-four movies to look for in 2013 back in December.  District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, in only his second major film, and Tristar Pictures have just released the first preview.  We had an idea that Damon would be decked out in some type of cybernetic gear but no idea that it would factor into his role in the film so much, as revealed in this first trailer.

The year is 2154.  The affluent in society live away from Earth in a space habitat in Earth’s orbit called Elysium.  Earth has been laid to waste and mankind is left destitute.  As with Blomkamp’s critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated first film District 9, Elysium promises to wrestle with hefty political issues, including class struggle, poverty, and immigration.  And there looks to be plenty of summer blockbuster action and slick borg circuitry attached to Damon’s hero character, Max Da Costa.

Wait no further, here’s the first trailer for Elysium:

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We have the technology… that could soon allow injured people to become fully autonomous again as cybernetic humans.  The future is closer than you might think.

Yesterday in an article in the journal Nature, researchers took another step forward in creating borg technology that one day may allow paraplegics and amputees to fully utilize advanced prosthetics to replace their missing limbs.  In their article “Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm,” Leigh R. Hochberg, Daniel Bacher, Beata Jarosiewicz, Nicolas Y. Masse, John D. Simeral, Joern Vogel, Sami Haddadin, Jie Liu, Sydney S. Cash, Patrick van der Smagt, and John P. Donoghue authored a study whereby two participants–years after their last productive use of their brains to control limb movement–were able to use an implanted neural interface, called the “BrainGate,” a pocket of electronic chips placed in the brain, to transmit commands to hard-wired three-dimensional devices to direct simulated limb movement.  A tetraplegic woman was able to use her own mind to move an artificial hand to allow her to drink unaided for the first time in nearly fifteen years.

Yesterday’s research was the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can practically control a prosthetic arm, using implants in the brain to transmit neural signals to an external computer.

Expanding on this research, it is easy to envision the possibilities of an advanced set of prosthetics attached to the human body that could one day serve as replacements for arms and legs–actual, useful borg technology to improve human life beyond that of current prosthetic arms and legs–for those people who have lost the functioning internal hard-wiring needed to complete even the most simple everyday tasks.

Study participant Cathy Hutchinson uses her thoughts to drink without anyone’s assistance for the first time in 15 years.

“Paralysis following spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other disorders can disconnect the brain from the body, eliminating the ability to perform volitional movements. A neural interface system could restore mobility and independence for people with paralysis by translating neuronal activity directly into control signals for assistive devices,” the study reported.  “Here we demonstrate the ability of two people with long-standing tetraplegia to use neural interface system-based control of a robotic arm to perform three-dimensional reach and grasp movements.”

With little advance direction, a 58-year-old woman and 66 year old man who had suffered debilitating strokes were able to use a small group of neurons in their brain stems connected via a 96-channel microelectrode array to operate a hand and arm machine.  The 58-year-old woman, using a sensor implanted 5 years earlier, used a robotic arm to drink coffee from a bottle.  “Our results demonstrate the feasibility for people with tetraplegia, years after injury to the central nervous system, to recreate useful multidimensional control of complex devices directly from a small sample of neural signals,” the study said.

Charts from the study showing the BrainGate process.

The basic commands used electronic signal patterns to direct the machine to move “left,” “right” and “down”.  The interface was centered on the participants’ heads, but future research could include the sending of wireless signals, although this has not yet been realized.  The BrainGate2 project furthered an earlier 2006 study that allowed a man to use his thoughts to move a computer cursor as part of an early phase of this research project.  Although practical application is likely years away because of FDA approvals and necessary improvements, news of this study will hopefully cause other researchers to expand the reach of this work.

More information and the complete journal report can be found at Nature.com.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By C.J. Bunce

Dynamite Comics writer Paul Tobin promised readers “baguettes, bullets, and bionic badass” with his new Bionic Woman comic book series and Issue #1 delivers on the “bionic badass”.  Although it feels more like a prologue to the series, because it spends the issue with backstory and tells more than it shows, it’s a good enough start to keep readers coming back for more.

Jaime Sommers has been completely updated from the 1970s cyborg superhero played by Lindsay Wagner, who spun off her own show from the original Six Million Dollar Man TV series that starred Lee Majors as Bionic Man Steve Austin.  In the new Bionic Canon we have only seen Jaime in the origin story of Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s rebooted Bionic Man series.  There we learned she was Steve Austin’s girlfriend, but after Steve crashed and was turned into a cybernetic weapon of the Office of Scientific Intelligence or OSI, she was told Steve was dead and we know now she has moved on.  We learn that they got back together once Steve recovered, and shortly thereafter Jaime plunged to the ground in a parachuting accident.  Steve convinces Oscar Goldman & Company to rebuild her as they rebuilt him, and this occurs.  Then they have a falling out.  We don’t get a lot of information comparing Steve and Jaime’s bionics, but we do learn Jaime is “smoother” and “faster” than Steve.

So we now have Jaime Sommers, cybernetic human, a former teacher, who has lost most of her pre-surgery memories, on the run in Paris from the people who rebuilt her.  Unlike the original Jaime, this new Bionic Woman has amped up abilities–if Lindsay Wagner was Bionic Woman 1.0, think of her as a Bionic Woman 8.0.  In one scene we see that her bionics are smooth and form fitting with her arms and legs, a bit like the Terminator.  But like the Terminatrix from Terminator 3, she can do many new, cool things, like camouflage herself by morphing her face to change her appearance.  She can also download anything and everything from the Web into her brain… enormous amounts of information that she is yet to fully be able to control.  And she knows kung-fu.

We meet her in Issue #1 on the run with another runner, apparently a bit of a bounty hunter searching out information to broker to others, including information on the illusive Ms. Sommers.  Not knowing what she looks like, he reveals all that he knows–basically the backstory for readers–also letting Jaime in on what information he has on her.  It doesn’t amount to much.  She barely attempts to hide her identity, mainly because she is so confident in the outcome of the charade.  She doesn’t have to hide.  With a move of her arm she opens up a port releasing a nano-bug that temporarily incapacitates her comrade, and she is off to hide from watchers off the Grid.

But as she catches up with a friend in a restaurant a bullet pierces a nearby window en route to her head.  And we are left with the series first cliffhanger ending.  The villains are a new organization trying to steal cyborg parts from Bionic prototypes, predecessors to Jaime and Steve–presumably to use for others for a price.

Other than a quick peek at her cybernetics in her apartment, Jaime is not drawn as your typical female superhero.  She wears a pant suit of sorts as she speeds through town across the cityscape.  Leno Carvalho does not take the normal route here of skimpy outfits and emphasis on her feminity.  This creates visually a more promising heroine for us to keep an eye on.  She’s savvy, smart and sure-footed… a badass who can clear a room full of bad guys all by herself.

Issue #1 reveals big questions that writer Tobin will be taking us through in coming issues:  Who is after Jaime?  Why is she on the run?  Why did she leave Steve?  How did she end up in Paris?  How long can she stay hidden?  What other bionic tricks are up her sleeve (or accessible through her data ports)?

Issue #1 is available at all comic shops beginning this week and will be published monthly.

Marketed as a flip book for ages 8 and up, the newly released Star Wars: Darth Vader: A 3-D Reconstruction Log offers a high level overview of the internal make-up of the Empire’s #1 weapon of destruction, from his internal cybernetics to his “exoskeletal” integrated body armor.

As a 24-page board book, this newest look at Vader offers some fun insights, and is cleverly written from an in-world perspective.  The text provides that “The text of this record was salvaged from the memory logs of the two droids that performed the majority of Darth Vader’s procedures…”

Surprisingly, Darth Vader is not the optimal cyborg we might have expected, for certain practical reasons: “if not for the constraints imposed on the surgical team by the Empire’s budgetary issues, the results could have been even more impressive.”  Humorously, the book is sprinkled with excuses and shortcuts taken in the development of Vader’s final form.

The nicely designed book looks at main features behind Vader’s helmet, mask, chest armor, gloves, boots, belt, chest box, bodysuit, prosthetic limbs, implants, organic components, skeleton, nerves, and cape.  Text is accompanied by a stacked layering of each component, seen from the cover all together as the complete “lord of the sith.”

Some interesting tidbits from the book:

Vader’s waste processor is actually a recycling system similar to those employed by long-haul asteroid miners.

Vader has (had) his original lungs, but a breathing regulator replaced this function, and he uses an entirely artificial heart.

As revealed in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Vader’s right arm is entirely cybernetic, but unlike the rest of his cybernetics, it is of a Jedi medicine design.

Vader is a bit of a superhero, as his suit incorporates a body-weave that repels blasts and distributes energy across the suit, a bit like a cross of Batman and Superman.

Also like modern superheroes, the cape isn’t just for looks, as it helps filter contaminants into his breathing apparatus.

Star Wars: Darth Vader: A 3-D Reconstruction Log will appeal to the 6-12 year old Star Wars fan, and the writing is not dumbed down for that age level, adding a benefit to incorporate some expanded vocabularly to this reading group.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

   

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spoilers!

Justice League is the biggest enigma of the main DC Comics New 52 storylines, now readying for its fourth issue to be published next week (Dec. 21).  On the one hand the story is a typical “Avengers Assemble” type story—Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are giving us a new origin story of the main characters in the DCU—Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman.  It is both incredibly simple—we have a major common foe, the superheroes are being confused by the public as somehow the cause of the problem, and the characters are meeting for the first time, even though they have heard of each other–and requires a good deal of coordination, as each character’s personality must come through with first meetings and first impressions laying the groundwork for months of new stories.

As with his work on Aquaman, reviewed here yesterday, Geoff Johns continues his universe building in a literal sense, and at the micro level his characters’ interactions are funny and entertaining.  What is not obvious to the casual reader is where all this plays into the individual issues of Batman (or the several related Batman titles), Superman (or the related Superman family titles), or Green Lantern (or the several Green Lantern titles), or Flash, Wonder Woman or Aquaman.  With a Green Lantern title focused on Sinestro…from where did Hal Jordan emerge in the new reboot cycle?  The reader is left to ask:  how do these stories tie together?

In Justice League issue #2, Batman and Green Lantern are fending off Superman in Metropolis, who believes a “Pandora’s Box” of sorts that Batman possesses links the two superheroes to the evil plaguing the world via flying, large-toothed aliens, who keep uttering the name Darkseid.  Green Lantern gets the great idea to invite an ally, Barry Gordon aka The Flash, to come and whip around and ultimately wear down Superman.  Barry is a cop, and Barry and Hal know each other’s secret identities.  They finally all calm down enough to discuss what is happening when the Pandora’s Box turns into more of a Trojan Horse, wreaking further havoc by letting into the world even more alien beasties.

In Justice League issue #3, Wonder Woman enters the fold, taken in by the Pentagon in Washington, DC, she wanders out into the street searching for harpies, and instead stumbles upon the wonders of…street vendor ice cream.  (Johns is a quirky fellow).  The same aliens that are attacking Superman and Batman and Company in Metropolis are now attacking DC.  We flash to Metropolis again and Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash are still under attack.  Then Wonder Woman enters the picture, sword slicing, speaking in a stilted manner like Xena, Warrior Princess (Don’t you think DC needs to license some rights to the other famous Amazon for this new DCU?).  It’s a strange transition.  Did Wonder Woman walk from DC to Metropolis?  How close are these cities?  Maybe I am having too many thoughts here.

They pursue the alien menace to seaside, to Aquaman, coming out of the water. “They were in the water, too,” he says, and we see a creature strikingly like the ones he is fighting in the Aquaman series.  This brings up the obvious question: Are these the same alien beings Aquaman and Mera are pursuing into the oceanic place called The Trench, as told in the Aquaman series?

I’ve no complaints with the story or art in Justice League issues #1-3–Justice League is simply a fun ride, as it has always been (although with the “of America” in the title).  As the cornerstone of the DCU going forward, I do wish there was some continuity explanation in these books, in a way that you don’t have to seek out explanations via interviews with writers and other reviews.  From that we learn the Justice League story is five years in the past, so presumably none of this inter-relates, at least yet.

I did leave a big piece out of my review above of issues #2 and #3.  It’s what I think of as the Will Robinson/Wesley Crusher character—the kid in a major sci-fi franchise that becomes the access point for kids to the adult real world in stories like Justice League—the excuse to explain the techno-babble of what is happening for the viewing audience despite the fact that everyone on-screen should be savvy enough to know what is happening.  Presumably this is a potential narrator, or at least a vantage point for kids, in future stories.  I usually found this role in stories irritating when I was a kid.  For whatever reason, as a storytelling device, writers still employ this.  That said, in the context of the traditionally kid focused comic book medium, it may at least be an appropriate place for it.

In Detroit there is a kid named Victor Stone.  He’s a football player.  A teenager.  His father is a doctor doing super-human research at S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit.  In the study of the Pandora’s Box mentioned above, Victor is nearly killed in an explosion.  Panicking (or quick thinking?) Dr. Stone takes all of the nano-technology currently within his reach, even if untested, and applies it to his son, to create a new character to be fleshed out in future issues… this is the beginning, the origin story of the character seen in past DCU stories called Cyborg.

Of course, even with a Will Robinson/Wesley Crusher-role of the DCU, we like cyborgs at borg.com, so we’ll be watching his growth as a character closely.  This cyborg has cybernetic implants, including an eye piece similar to Seven of Nine’s in Star Trek Voyager.  DCU’s cyborg was created in 1980, so he’s a recent hero and a strange choice for a newly-founded Justice League team.  Geoff Johns has been quoted as saying of the new Cyborg, “He represents all of us in a lot of ways.  If we have a cellphone and we’re texting on it, we are a cyborg — that’s what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves.”  I think that is a bit of a stretch, but I like the spirit of that philosophy.

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