New Year’s resolution: More columns about cyborgs for Mediaite. Learn WordPress. And maybe get a black belt in Karate…and maybe a dog.
I have inadvertently learned a lot about cyborgs by becoming one recently. It started when I damaged my right eye after shooting a pile of cow crap with a shotgun when I was nine. Over the years the eye got worse and I ended up getting it removed four years ago. Yes, I have seen A Christmas Story and, yes, Ralphie’s mother was right – you’ll shoot your eye out.
As I am a documentary filmmaker, it occurred to me that I could put a wireless video camera in a modified prosthetic eye. Not to connect it to the brain or my retina (see another article I wrote about the difference between my eye and bionic eyes that restore vision here). Mine is just a camera that goes where my eye used to go. Thusly, I became a cyborg. Now other cyborgs call and email, I get links from friends, and I chat and read about cyborgs a lot.
Here’s the new working eye. Stand by for superamazing cyborg footage in 2010.
And now, I would now like to break down the 10 best cyborgs of the decade.
1. THE INJURED SOLDIER
There has been a lot of war this decade. Between Iraq and Afghanistan there have been soldiers who have lost whatever body part you can think of. Particularly, because of the types of roadside bombs used in these conflicts. Injured soldiers are, as it says in the Doonesbury cartoon below, proudly “pimping their gimp.” (click to enlarge)
In fact, the Pentagon has put $100 million dollars into a program called Revolutionizing Prosthetics that is making great leaps and bounds (oh yeah, and I mean literally) in bionic parts.
Here are just a few examples.
Iraq war hero and double amputee Lt. Col. Greg Gadson – whose bravery helped inspire the New York Giants to their last Super Bowl victory – recently became the first person in the world to land a pair of super-high-tech prosthetic legs that practically think for themselves.
60 minutes video: The Pentagon’s bionic arm
“We want these kids to have something put back on them that will essentially allow one of these kids to pick up a raisin or a grape off a table, know the difference without looking at it. That is an extraordinary goal,” Kamen explained.
They have developed an arm that is controlled by flexing the shoulder and pressing buttons built into a pair of shoes – “almost as if he’s typing with his toes”.
The goal now is to create prosthetics that are controlled by thought alone. But hold on! Early in December of 2009 came out this story.
A robotic hand has been successfully connected to an amputee, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts, a group of European scientists said Wednesday.
2. AIMEE MULLINS
It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It is a conversation about augmentation. It’s a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb doesn’t represent a need to replace loss anymore.
Aimees Mullins from her speech “How my legs give me super-powers” at the TED Conference 2009.
This woman is a true inspiration for people missing parts of their body everywhere … and she is sooooo hot. I’m not gonna lie, I want her to be my girlfriend. She lost both her legs but became a successful collegiate athlete. She’s a model and an actress and a kick ass cyborg. I am not worthy.
Gordon used to be a rat. University of Reading cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick created Gordon when he took rat brain neurons and placed them on a multi-electrode array to form a ratborg. Now Gordon is the ultimate cyborg (hardly any mammal left and mostly mechanical) and I feel a kinship with him of sorts. Its a bit disturbing but, I dunno, I want to meet Gordon.
Jerry and I know each other now as we have exchanged emails. He created a small media storm when he replaced the tip of the index finger he lost in an accident with a USB flash drive. Jerry is a playful guy from Finland who gets points from me for the silliness and utility of his cyborgitude. One can have a sense of humor about these things. We are in talks for him to be my sound guy with a “microphone finger” attachment when I get going with my eye camera.
5. SPIDER-MAN FISHING ROD KID
Robert Haag’s little boy Michael lost his arm. Robert decided that his little boy should feel cool about missing an arm so he designed a Spider-Man prosthetic arm fishing rod. Its just one example of the great mods you will see at The Open Prosthetics website.
6. AQUA WOMAN
Nadya Vessey is a New Zealand woman who had lost her legs as a child but fantasized about becoming a mermaid. Lucky for her she met the New Zealand team behind the effects in Lord Of The Rings. The LOTR guys made her a fully functioning mermaid tail.
7. ELECTRIC EYE CYBORG(S)
Using an implant attached to an eyeball, this MIT project will restore partial vision to people who are blind. As some people like to say a REAL bionic eye (unlike my own plain old prosthetic eye camera). Both this cyborg advance, as well as my own, made it into Time Magazine’s 50 best inventions of the year for 2009.
Time Magazine best inventions link: The Electric Eye was voted most popular invention of the year online; and my Eyeborg eye made 23rd most popular.
8. THE 50 DOLLAR PROSTHETIC LEG GUY/GAL
House of Natural Fiber is a new media art laboratory in Yogyakarta, Indonesia that helped design a really cheap prosthetic leg for the many people who have lost a leg through natural disaster or war. These people are cyborgs taking advantage of technology as well. Just not the expensive kind. By inverting a bicycle seat where the foot goes, and some other cheap ingenuity, like using strong bamboo stalks, they have created something useful and affordable if not flashy and expensive like that for wounded vets in the West.
9. REAL IRON MAN
Iron Man is becoming real. People in Japan are really smart with robots and the like. And their population is aging. Result? They are making a real Iron Man suit/powered exoskeleton. Wicked. Here is an article from Scientific American about it.
10. DARTH VADER
When you think about it, Darth Vader is the biggest hero of them all. It was he who killed the Emperor and saved all of us.
11. LEE MAJORS
Lee Majors was THE bionic man, the original cyborg. And even though he was a fictional cyborg, he inspired me and a legion of others to take an accident or a loss and make it something to be happy about. Nah nuh nuh nuh nuh. (That’s the sound he makes when he is being bionic in his old 70’s show The Six Million Dollar Man).
And he lost his ex-wife Farrah this year, and he sells amazing hearing aids.
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