A MILLION-dollar bionic man complete with artificial organs, synthetic blood and robot limbs goes on display at London’s Science Museum this week.
Costing almost £640,000, it is cheaper than the Six Million Dollar Man from the cult 1970s TV series, but the 6ft 6in (2m) humanoid shares quite a bit in common with Steve Austin, the original “bionic man”.
The artificial man was assembled by a team of leading roboticists for a new Channel 4 documentary, How To Build A Bionic Man.
It incorporates some of the latest advances in prosthetic technology, as well as an artificial pancreas, kidney, spleen and trachea, and a functional blood circulatory system.
The Science Museum exhibit opening on Thursday will explore changing perceptions of human identity against the background of rapid progress in bionics.
In the documentary, to be screened at 9pm on Thursday, experts at the forefront of the research talk to Swiss social psychologist Bertolt Meyer.
Meyer was born without a left hand and has a £30,000 bionic replacement with the ability to grip and twist.
But although his hand is the most advanced on the market, it could soon be obsolete. In the programme Meyer tries out the much more advanced modular prosthetic limb (MPL), which teaches itself how to recognise tiny control signals from the upper arm.
He also meets teams of British scientists who are restoring sight to the blind by implanting microchips in their retinas, and building artificial organs to replace failing lungs, kidneys, pancreases and spleens.
“I’ve looked around for new bionic technologies, out of personal interest, for a very long time and I think that until five or six years ago nothing much was happening,” said Meyer. “Then suddenly we are now at a point where we can build a body that is great and beautiful in its own special way.”
David Glover, senior commissioning editor for Channel 4 Factual, said: “Following Bertolt Meyer, who has a bionic arm himself, as he investigates the reality of building a bionic human takes this brilliantly made documentary into new territory. If what scientists can do now is jaw-dropping, the future is mind-boggling.”
The project is supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award which aims to help the public explore biomedical science.
Clare Matterson, director of medical humanities and engagement at the charity, said, quoting from the introduction to the One Million Dollar Man: “Throughout history people have always sought to enhance themselves to overcome disabilities or to become ‘bigger, better, stronger and faster’. Science is making aspirations and even fantasy ever more possible. We only have to look back at last summer’s Paralympics to see how transforming technology has become.
“Whilst exploring the latest medical developments, How To Build A Bionic Man hints at the implications these advances may raise for mankind in the future.”