Page content

Bionics for a New Age

There was a new show on NBC (and when I say new, I really mean a rehash) about a woman who had bionic implants that allowed her to be a secret agent. The show was a re-fliming of an older show, with new technology, in which they were really able to show how the Bionic Woman was able to use her bionic implants to save the world.

The show was cancelled half-way through the season thanks to the writers' strike, but the idea of a person (man or woman) with bionic implants brings to mind even more science fiction. However, this is science fiction no longer – with advances in the bionics industry, science is giving biological systems a run for their money.

You may be wondering what that word means, “bionics.” Bionics is a science where biological systems are applied to engineering. In the case of the Bionic Woman, she had an accident in which she lost her arm, eye, and legs. For this reason, she has a bionic arm implanted, or an arm that uses clever engineering to achieve biomimicry (or the mimicking of biological systems). For show-business reasons, the arm gave her super-human strength. In reality, biomimicked systems of today aim only to reproduce biological systems, not improve on them from a mechanical point of view.

Some interesting examples of biomimicry (and bionics) include velcro, which was synthesized after the creator saw how dog fur interacted with a hooked material. Catseyes on bicycles and the like were invented after that creator saw how the eyes of a cat are able to reflect even the most minuscule amount of light.

But bionics have use outside just practical applications. Overall, engineers aim to take the beauty of biological systems (as well as the elegance and simplicity) and apply those ideals to their engineering. For instance, biomimetic synthesis uses the elegance of biological chemical processes to create an engineered chemical synthesizing process. In 2006, Mercedes even announced a car called the Bionic which mimicked the body structure of a yellow boxfish - one that has an extremely low drag coefficient, therefore making the car much more aerodynamic.

Bionics have could have applications in every facet of your life. Most notably, out of science fiction, is Star Trek: Voyager’s computer, which uses a bio-neural network of circuits that act essentially like a giant brain using gel-packs filled with bionic material. Such wild ideas could come to fruition in as little as 5-10 years. One thing is clear: bionic design for medical items is making a huge impact on the medical community at large.