Bionic technology or simply bionics is one of the newest branches of science and a wonderful amalgam of electronics, robotics and human psychology. It is so modern that even the recent editions of the leading dictionaries explain the meaning of the word ‘bionic’ as a fictional character having artificial body parts and capable of doing things which no average human being can do! On the other side, the practical of ‘putting on’ artificial limbs to make up for the missing original limbs is centuries old. But the erstwhile ‘technology’ which provided such artificial limbs, and still provides in most of the cases, bears no relationship with the bionic technology which appears futuristic in comparison. As a matter of fact, both the technologies happen to be poles apart.
Under the traditional method, a wooden leg or a marble or glass eye was made for a person who had lost a leg or an eye. Making well-fitting limbs certainly called for craftsmanship but no technology was involved. Such prostheses (artificial limbs) served no purpose other than giving some support to the wearer’s body or making him feel that he appeared physically quite normal to the people who saw him.
Bionic technology does not stop at making well-fitting prostheses. The tern ‘bio’ in the word bionic has not been prefixed for nothing. The fundamental agenda of bionic technology is to ensure that artificial limbs such as eye, leg or arm carry out their functions like the normal limbs. In short, even if the limb fitted in the place of the missing one happens to be a non-living thing, it must be sufficiently ‘live’ to carry out its functions according to the desire of the wearer.
This was a great challenge. Hence the researchers had avoided grappling with it till the end of the 20th century. Instead, they had experimented with two comparatively easy options and were rewarded with correspondingly low rate of success. The first of these options was the removal of the non-functioning limb or the organ surgically and transplanting a healthy, functioning body part in its place. Another option was that of avoiding surgery altogether and getting the work of the diseased or non-functioning organ done through a machine.
Successful experiment of the option no. 1 was carried out for the first time on a young man named Joseph Murray in Boston city of the USA in 1954 when the surgeons transplanted one of his diseased kidneys with the healthy kidney donated by his twin brother. Other major milestones in the field of human organ replacement were transplantation of liver and that of heart in 1976. As regards the option of entrusting the work of the malfunctioning organ to a machine, the first breakthrough came in the form of artificial kidney or kidney dialysis machine invented by the German researcher Willem Kolb in 1943. However, it did not become harbinger of other similar machines for the simple reason that other machines of continuous requirement had to be very small in size so that they could be fitted inside the body, not to mention the problem of ensuring power supply for them. The experiments regarding implanting artificial heart were taken up during the decade of 1980s but they were not considered successful as all they could achieve was the postponement of the patient’s death by a few months.
It should be remembered that all these efforts had been aimed at only four or five organs while nothing much could be done for other limbs and organs. The main stumbling block faced by the researchers so far had been the inability to make the artificial organ adapt to the biology of the patient. A perfect synthesis of engineering and electronics was called for in order to tackle this problem. The last decade of 20th century was spent by the researchers in establishing the required fine-tuning. It is only now, in the first and the second decade of the 21st century that the experts in these diverse fields have started tasting success up to some extent and have opened up the novel field of bionic technology.
The research on giving a complete bionic form to many human limbs is on fast track. In other words, the research on making of bionic man is in full swing, albeit the bionic revolution is yet to achieve full bloom.