Cybernetics is a new and very broad discipline. For the purposes of this book, however, the central idea behind biomedical engineering or ‘biocybernetics’ is to incorporate man-made devices such as sophisticated prosthetic's into biological systems to either replace them or make them more efficient and effective, especially when they have been damaged due to accident or failed with aging or disease. The popular TV series ‘The Bionic Man’ and blockbuster films like ‘Robocop’ and ‘I, Robot’ continue to excite the public’s ‘ cybernetic’ imagination. The difference is, bionic limbs are no longer the realm of fantasy. In 2002 the first mechanical arm designed to be controlled by thought and with life-like hand and articulated fingers was attached to a human-being. A number of Americans have since been fitted with bionic arms. The aim is to make them ever more fluid and natural both in look and movement.
Examples include pumps, pacemakers and defibrillators for heart patients, infusion pumps for diabetics, artificial limbs and organs, corrective lenses, cochleat, ocular and dental implants and facial prosthetics. While some of these are temporary, advances in bio-cybernetics such as the new titanium and plastic heart aim to replace the heart altogether. Also on the drawing board are bionic eyes and ears. Meanwhile Blue tooth technology has been harnessed to enable wireless transfer of data to microprocessors within artificial limbs to direct natural movement.
The endless possibilities are limited only by ability to miniaturize components, the silicon chip and electrical circuitry to microscopic levels. We are likely to see some astonishing advances in the decades ahead.
• Currently practical bio-cybernetic applications are in...