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The chemistry of cyborgs

Manufacturing Group | January 21, 2014

Owing to the widespread application of intracorporeal medical devices, cyborgs are no longer exclusively a subject of science fiction.

The term “cyborg” had already been coined in 1960 to refer to a cybernetic organism. It characterizes the chimera of a living organism and a machine and it was defined by Clynes and Kline as: “The Cyborg deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments.”1 Cyborgs were considered the logical expansion of “man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments.”1

Today, the widespread public image of cyborgs comes from numerous science fiction novels, where cyborgs often appear as beings with supernatural ability and power, frequently used to harm humanity. Given the fact that a significant number of individuals are nowadays using intracorporeal medical devices, such as pacemakers, complex prosthetics, or cochlea and retina implants, this part of mankind can technically already be considered as cyborgs. In this review, we will summarize recent developments on the interfacing of technical devices with higher organisms.

In Section 2 we give a brief survey of the state-of-the-art of modern implants, which describes that implantation technology has been under development for more than 1000 years, but has made tremendenous progress in the past 10 years. This has enabled the development of sophisticated implantable brain – machine interfaces (Section 3) which provide a means to extract, and even inject, electrical signals from and into the brain. Such devices are under development and are already being used, for example, for medical action-from-thoughts applications where paralyzed individuals instruct robotic instrumentation by mere thinking.

More than a decade of work on animal cyborgs has not only contributed significantly to these cutting-edge medical applications. The so-called biobots, such as large insects with implanted electronic and fluidic control units, are also considered as an approach to a novel generation of tools, such as small aircrafts for observation and search missions. Moreover, the external control of animal muscle and neural tissue by hand-held devices aims to increase our fundamental understanding of neuroscience. It is outlined in Section 4 that the developments of biocompatible flexible electronics, chimeric device – tissue interfaces, novel fluidic and optical brain – machine interfaces, as well as the concept of harvesting energy from the host organism to operate implants represent key aspects of the ongoing research and development of cyborg technology for medical and other applications.

Click here to read the full article by Dr. Stefan Giselbrecht, Dr. Bastian E. Rapp, and Prof. Dr. Christof M. Niemeyer.

Source: Angewandte Chemie International Edition

1 M. E. Clynes, N. S. Kline, Astronautics 1960, 14, 26–27.

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