Advancements in biotechnology have made things of science fiction into reality. Back in the 70’s, bionic body parts were thought to be donned only by the Six Million Dollar Man1 and The Bionic Woman2. Fast forward forty years and bionic body parts are more science than fiction. As said, “Scientists are getting closer to creating a bionic human, or at least a $6 million one.”3

Bionic Ears

If anyone was in need of an ear, it would probably be a tie between Vincent van Gogh, Evander Holyfield, and the unnamed narrator of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. A bionic ear is hot off the press of some researchers at Princeton University.4 Using a 3-D printer, researchers at Princeton University built a bionic ear, complete with integrated electronics. This lab-made ear fabricated the two materials, the biological and electronic, together. By using cells and nanoparticles, followed by a culture broth to combine the electronic components to the tissue, the scientists were able to create a bionic ear. The bionic ear is fully functional, replicating the ability of a human ear (attached to its owner!) and even surpassing it. The finished product contains a coiled antenna inside a cartilage structure, with two wires that lead from the ear’s base and around an electronic “cochlea”. Future research will include the incorporation of other materials, like pressure-sensitive electronic sensors.

Bionic Eyes

Retina display cameras that process electronic signals into information and send it to an implanted electrode have the potential to restore some retinal function in those who have lost retinal function.

Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System5, which is currently in FDA Trials, and a developing technology from Harvard research Fellow, Dr. J. Pezaris1, use a camera to record basic visual information. This visual information is then processed into electronic signals and sent to the patient via implanted electrodes on the retina. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is a wired system that contains a small camera on the center point of a pair of glasses, while the developing technology by Dr. Pezaris will be wireless.

Bionic bodies, not all exoskeletons are created equal

My favorite Spartan, Master Chief6-13, from the Halo video game/book saga, and Marvel Comic’s Iron Man14 may not be the only bionic, powered exoskeleton armor wearing soldiers for much longer. Researchers from the U.S. Army’s Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) are currently developing body armor that has striking resemblances to Master Chief’s MJOLNIR armor and Iron man’s Space Armor MK III. Even the armor’s name, Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, dons a cool acronym – TALOS.15

TALOS armor may not have deflector shields like MJOLNIR, but RDECOM does intend to use nanomaterial to help aid in lighter, stronger body armor. TALOS is likely to contain a liquid nanomaterial, which MIT scientists are developing. This “liquid armor” uses magnetorheological (MR) fluids16 and relies on magnetic fields; the armor is capable of varying its stability and flexibility depending on the magnetic field it is exposed to.17

According to the US Army’s website17, TALOS will have a “physiological subsystem”. Similar to that of Master Chief and Iron Man’s armor, the TALOS subsystem will be in contact with the skin and embedded with sensors to help monitor core body and skin temperature, heart rate, body position, and hydration levels.

USSOCOM’s September 2013 announcement of their interest in receiving white papers reaches out to multiple disciplines spanning from government, academia, industry, and even to individuals.18, 19

When it comes to the possibilities of and the potential that TALOS has, the sky is the limit as the armor may eventually be capable of reading the wearer’s cognitive thoughts and surrounding environment, in order to display information on a Heads-Up Display (HUD). Not only would the suit be equipped with a HUD, but it may even assist in the stabilization of a wounded soldier, who is wearing TALOS, by using a “wound-stasis” program.18

A demonstration of TALOS, with the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), is scheduled on November 19th, 2013 (mark your calendars!).20

While some exoskeletons are made to make you feel superhuman, others are made to make you feel human, again. Two examples are the Ekso™, a bionic suit developed by Ekso Bionics, and Parker Hannifin’s powered exoskeleton device, Indego®.21,22

The Ekso™ bionic suit enables individuals with lower extremity paralysis, extreme weakness, and neurological diseases to stand and walk.21 This is achieved through utilizing the user’s forward lateral weigh shift to initiate a step, with a weight bearing, four point reciprocal gait. The exoskeleton is powered by motors that move the legs and is worn over the clothing. Users are not inhibited by a pre-determined speed of “turtle slow”, either. This device offers three walk modes: step actuation by use of a button activated by a physical therapist (typically during the first few sessions of therapy), user control step actuation via buttons on the crutches or walker, and user enabled actuating through the movement of the hips. There are also different modes of power – full power, adaptive (Ekso adjusts the power to compensate for the amount of power produced by the patient), and fixed power (either leg contributes a fixed amount of power for stabilization). The device also gathers and transmits statistics and device information, when in use, which can be retrieved through Ekso Bionics’ web server.23

The Indego® allows people with paraplegia the opportunity to stand and walk, while giving them freedom from a wheelchair. I recently learned about this developing technology and I was deeply touched by this device’s concept and purpose.22, 24 The Indego® lightweight, weighing in at 27 pounds, can be disassembled/re-assembled, and can even be worn while sitting. The exoskeleton is capable of providing 100% of the power and support necessary to walk on all types of surfaces and can even adjust the amount of robotic assistance to help aid in stability. To add a cherry on top, this device also incorporates functional electrical stimulation (FES) rehabilitation therapy! Learning about this device made me very proud to be a part of the medical device industry and reminded me of my journey to where I am now, why and how I got here, and where I will be.

Stay connected! Part II of this four part blog mini-series includes “Not-so-Vulcan ‘Mind-Melds’”!

What are your thoughts, comments, and feedback? I want to know!


-RSpelich ^_^




  1. Jahn, M. Six Million Dollar Man. London: Star Book, 1975. Print.
  2. Johnson, K. "The Bionic Woman." The Bionic Woman. ABC. 14 Jan. 1976. Television.
  3. Koerth-Baker, M. Bionic Humans: Top 10 Technologies. LiveScience. Available at: Accessed 16 Sept. 2013.
  4. Sullivan, J. Printable ’bionic’ ear melds electronics and biology. Posted 8 May 2013. Princeton University. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct 2013.
  5. News & Observer. Duke researchers will offer ‘bionic eye’ for the blind. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  6. Halo: Combat Evolved. Bungie Software. Video Game. Released 14 Nov. 2001.
  7. Halo 2. Bungie Software. Video game. Released 09 Nov. 2004.
  8. Halo 3: Bungie Software. Video game. Released 25 Sept. 2007.
  9. Halo Wars. Ensemble Studios. Video game. Released 3 March 2009.
  10. Halo 3: ODST. Bungie Software. Video game. Released 22 Sept. 2009.
  11. Halo: Reach: Bungie Software. Video game. Released 14 Sept. 2010.
  12. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Bungie Software. Video game. Released 14 Sept. 2010.
  13. Halo 4. 343 Industries. Video Game. Released 6 Nov. 2012.
  14. Stan L., Lieber, L. Heck, D., and Kirby, J. The Invincible Iron Man. New York: NY: Marvel Comics Group, 1968. Print.
  15. Hoarn, S. Defense Media Network. Tachical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) Request Elicits Response From RDECOM, Others. Posted 15 June 2013. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  16. Ocalan, M. Manetorheological fluids for extreme environments: stronger, lighter, hotter. MIT. 2011. MIT. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  17. Teel, R. Army explores futuristic uniform for SOCOM. Posted 28 May 2013. USARMY. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  18. USSOCOM. USSOCOM Seeks Ideas for Advanced Assault Suit Development. 20 Sept. 2013. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  19. FedBizOpps. Tectical Asault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) Technologies for Use by Special Operations Forces. 04 Sept. 2013. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  20. Gourley SR. SOCOM Extends TALOS Technology Timeline Vision. Posted on 23 Sept. 2013. Defense Media Network. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  21. Ekso Bionics. Ekso. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  22. Parker Hannifin Corp. Indego. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  23. Ekso Bionics. Variable Assist. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.
  24. Parker Hannifin Corp. Indego Downloads. Available at: Accessed on 10 Oct. 2013.


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