• Question: How do you think bionic limbs will evolve? What will they look like?

    Asked by fanta02 to Alex, Claire, Kate, Marcus, Neil on 23 Jun 2014.
    • Photo: Marcus Johns

      Marcus Johns answered on 23 Jun 2014:

      I think eventually bionic limbs could look exactly like the original organic limb that they’re replacing because people generally want what they originally had. However, there is an artist in the US that customises people’s prosthetic limbs so that they can make a statement about themselves – kind of like an elaborate tattoo – and some even own more than one of these so that they can wear different ones depending on the occasion.

      I think bionic limbs could develop like this with people getting custom-made ones depending on their tastes – perhaps ones that look more robotic or ones that are like tentacles, although this would be many years away due to how complicated it would be to link them to the person and get them to operate smoothly. I do think that there would be limits put in place by professional bodies as to what people can do with them – I doubt that it would be possible for anyone to have one that could be used as a weapon more powerful than a standard human arm or leg for example.

    • Photo: Kate Niehaus

      Kate Niehaus answered on 23 Jun 2014:

      It’s an interesting question, and I’ll be curious to see what happens over time. As Marcus has said, one possible outcome is that bionic limbs become more and more similar to non-bionic limbs.

      But it’s also possible that they become much more specialized for certain functions. For instance, I think about the advanced prosthetic limbs used by amputees for track racing – there are questions about whether these are “better” than our natural limbs. You could get prosthetic arms that allow you to reach into fire or launch footballs. It could someday come to the point that people see specially-designed prosthetic limbs as an advantage over “natural” ones!

    • Photo: Alex Lyness

      Alex Lyness answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Hey fanta02,

      That’s a great question. I think it humans will always want to make body parts look like how they think they should be intended to be, hands, arms, feet and legs will (ideally) be fleshy and skin-coloured.

      We cannot ‘grow’ limbs back (like salamanders and newts which can: http://animals.howstuffworks.com/amphibians/salamander-regrow-body-parts.htm lucky creatures!) so until we can the most important thing at the moment is that what ever we replace limbs with functionally performs well. It’s aesthetics and appearance can be an afterthought.

      I thought the Paralympics in 2012 was an incredible event and got a lot of people more used to seeing prosthetics of all shapes and sizes. Some of those were developed here in the department I work in at Loughborough.

      I’ve also answered two that are quite similar, including prosthetics might be better than actual limbs and how they might be controlled, mine and some of the other Engineers answers can be seen here:

      With bio-engineering/health related engineering, will a time come when disability is not a disadvantage, as we are

      If you can clip metal on to your brain and control a robot, could you control somebody else’s robotic arm????

      Hope that helps 🙂

    • Photo: Claire Brockett

      Claire Brockett answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Great question!
      As the other engineers have said – there are a number of ways in which they might evolve.
      I think one of the most exciting developments is the addition of electronics and research into nerve repair/stimulation which will allow the person to feel – see something like this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26036429
      As Kate said, the other possibilities are also making ‘super-human’ limbs, which are able to do things that our limbs don’t!
      Perhaps it’s something you could work on?

    • Photo: Neil Dhir

      Neil Dhir answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      An excellent question, and you have had some great answers from the other engineers.

      I would add that I think future bionic limbs will be truly bionic in the sense that they will include some form of neural system which properly interacts with the ‘original’ body parts, such that signals and processes, can be passed seamlessly between the two. This is of course very difficult, but the end goal, for the patient, is to make is so that they do not even notice that they are wearing a bionic limb, that it is nothing but a slightly different limb for whatever reason.

      That is the future I think, I think their capacities will most likely surpass what we as humans can do (think for example stronger grip in your hand), but that this will be an optional setting, if you need to use it in any work application. This however is called human augmentation and is hotly contested and debated because of what it potentially could entail (super humans).

      So a very good question all in all.