The Cyborgs Among Us: Exoskeletons Go Mainstream

Every technological advancement seems to have a sharp inflection point, a time before which it seems like any early adopters are considered kooks, but beyond which the device or service quickly becomes so mainstream that non-adopters become the kooky ones. Take cell phones, for example – I clearly remember a news report back in the 1990s about some manufacturers crazy idea to put a digital camera in a phone. Seemingly minutes later, you couldn’t buy a phone without a camera.

It seems like we may be nearing a similar inflection point with a technology far more complex and potentially far more life-altering than cameras in cell phones: powered exoskeletons. With increasing numbers of news stories covering advancements in exoskeletal assistants for the elderly, therapeutic applications for those suffering from spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases, and penetration into the workplace – including the battlefield – as amplifiers of human effort, it’s worth taking a look at where we are with exoskeletons before seeing someone using one in public becomes so commonplace as to go unnoticed.

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Human Augmentation for Weight Loss

If you read almost any article about powered human implants, you will encounter the same roadblock, “it could be so much better with more powerful batteries.” Our fleshy power systems are different from electrical systems, but we are full of moving parts, so [Xudong Wang] and fellow researchers have harnessed that power (Sci Hub Alt) and turned it right back into something else our body understands.

The goal of this project is to control obesity by tricking the vagus nerve into thinking we are full as we digest our current meal. The treatment has already been proven with battery-powered implants, but this version uses the oscillations of the stomach for power and sends the generated power right where it is needed. A control group of rats showed no change over 100 days, but those with this implant shed more than a third of their body weight. This may need some tuning but its effectiveness seems to be heading the right way, and it is surgically reversible.

The device is a triboelectric generator coated in polyimide and Ecoflex™ with gold electrodes that wrap around the vagus nerve at the gastro-esophageal junction. The generator presses against the stomach from outside and the rhythm of the muscles generates the signal that the stomach is full so it becomes a loop of digesting ⇄ sated.

Another handful, of implants don’t need power from inside the body and use RFID technology.
Via IEEE Spectrum.

Cyborg, Or Leafy Sensor Array?

Some plants react quickly enough for our senses to notice, such as a Venus flytrap or mimosa pudica. Most of the time, we need time-lapse photography at a minimum to notice while more exotic sensors can measure things like microscopic pores opening and closing. As with any sensor reading, those measurements can be turned into action through a little trick we call automation. [Harpreet Sareen] and [Pattie Maes] at MIT brought these two ideas together in a way which we haven’t seen before where a plant has taken the driver’s seat in a project called Elowan. Details are sparse but the concept is easy enough to grasp.

We are not sure if this qualifies as a full-fledged cyborg or if this is a case of a robot using biological sensors. Maybe it all depends on which angle you present this mixture of plant and machine. Perhaps it is truly is the symbiotic relationship that the project claims it to be. The robot would not receive any instructions without the plant and the plant would receive sub-optimal light without the robot. What other ways could plants be integrated into robotics to make it a bona fide cyborg?

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Cyborg Mushrooms

Of all the fictional cyborgs who turn against humanity to conquer the planet, this is as far from that possibility as you can get. These harmless mushrooms seem more interested in showing off their excellent fashion sense with a daring juxtaposition of hard grid lines with playful spirals. But the purpose of this bacteria-fungus-technology hybrid is to generate electricity. The mushrooms are there to play nurse to a layer of cyanobacteria, the green gel in the photo, while the straight black lines harvest electricity.

Cyanobacteria do not live very long under these kinds of conditions, so long-term use is out of the question, but by giving the cyanobacteria somewhere it can thrive, the usefulness grows. The interplay between bacterial and supportive organics could lead to advances in sensors and hydrogels as well. At some point, we may grow some of our hardware and a green thumb will be as useful as a degree in computer science.

Hydrogels could be the next medical revolution, and we’ve already made hydrogels into tattoos, used them as forms for artificial muscles, and hydrogels can be a part of soft tissue printing.

I Hear You Offer WiFi

We are swimming in radio transmissions from all around, and if you live above the ground floor, they are coming at you from below as well. Humans do not have a sensory organ for recognizing radio signals, but we have lots of hardware which can make sense of it. The chances are good that you are looking at one such device right now. [Frank Swain] has leaped from merely accepting the omnipresent signals from WiFi routers and portable devices to listening in on them. The audio signals are mere soundwaves, so he is not listening to every tweet and email password, merely a representation of the data’s presence. There is a sample below the break, and it sounds like a Geiger counter playing PIN•BOT.

We experience only the most minuscule sliver of information coming at us at any given moment. Machines to hack that gap are not had to find on these pages so [Frank] is in good company. Magnetosensory is a popular choice for people with a poor sense of direction. Echolocation is perfect for fans of Daredevil. Delivering new sensations could be easier than ever with high-resolution tactile displays. Detect some rather intimate data with ‘SHE BON.’

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Turn Yourself Into A Cyborg With Neural Nets

If smartwatches and tiny Bluetooth earbuds are any indications, the future is with wearable electronics. This brings up a problem: developing wearable electronics isn’t as simple as building a device that’s meant to sit on a shelf. No, wearable electronics move, they stretch, people jump, kick, punch, and sweat. If you’re prototyping wearable electronics, it might be a good idea to build a Smart Internet of Things Wearable development board. That’s exactly what [Dave] did for his Hackaday Prize entry, and it’s really, really fantastic.

[Dave]’s BodiHub is an outgrowth of his entry into last year’s Hackaday Prize. While the project might not look like much, that’s kind of the point; [Dave]’s previous projects involved shrinking thousands of dollars worth of equipment down to a tiny board that can read muscle signals. This project takes that idea a bit further by creating a board that’s wearable, has support for battery charging, and makes prototyping with wearable electronics easy.

You might be asking what you can do with a board like this. For that, [David] suggests a few projects like boxing gloves that talk to each other, or tell you how much force you’re punching something with. Alternatively, you could read body movements and synchronize a LED light show to a dance performance. It can go further than that, though, because [David] built a mesh network logistics tracking system that uses an augmented reality interface. This was actually demoed at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, and the audience was wowed. You can check out the video of that demo here.

Ask Hackaday: What Is The Future Of Implanted Electronics?

Biohacking is the new frontier. In just a few years, millions of people will have implanted RFID chips under the skin between their thumb and index finger. Already, thousands of people in Sweden have chipped themselves to make their daily lives easier. With a tiny electronic implant, Swedish rail passengers can pay their train ticket, and it goes without saying how convenient opening an RFID lock is without having to pull out your wallet.

That said, embedding RFID chips under the skin has been around for decades; my thirteen-year-old cat has had a chip since he was a kitten. Despite being around for a very, very long time, modern-day cyborgs are rare. The fact that only thousands of people are using chips on a train is a newsworthy event. There simply aren’t many people who would find the convenience of opening locks with a wave of a hand worth the effort of getting chipped.

Why hasn’t the most popular example of biohacking caught on? Why aren’t more people getting chipped? Is it because no one wants to be branded with the Mark of the Beast? Are the reasons for a dearth of biohacking more subtle? That’s what we’re here to find out, so we’re asking you: what is the future of implanted electronics?

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