A cyborg is, by definition, a fictional character that is part man, part machine - think Darth Vader, or Robocop. Today, though, technology is marching on at an unprecedented pace, and wearable tech is becoming commonplace. The idea of taking our symbiosis with machines one step further with implantable technology is no longer so far-fetched. Cyborgs are moving out of the realm of fiction and into our everyday lives, with humans proudly and effectively using machinery linked to their bodies to enhance themselves both physically and mentally.
Those with devices such as artificial pacemakers, advanced prosthetics and cochlear implants that can measure electrical impulses from the body and deliver electrical stimuli are considered cyborgs. Animals can also be transformed into cyborgs. The main culprits are rats and guinea pigs. In this article, we look at 15 of the most interesting real-life cyborgs in the world.
Ratborg is the brainchild of Kevin Warwick (another real life cyborg as we will see later). After thorough research, Kevin and his team were able to develop a machine that could be controlled entirely by a rat’s brain. They harvested rat’s brains, cultured them and installed them in a wheeled robot to direct its control circuit.
The robot could move from one point to another by converting electrical impulses sent to the cultured brain neurons into commands. These commands are then sent to the robot’s wheels, making it one of the few robots that can truly learn.
14 Nigel Ackland
Working as a precious metals smelter, Nigel Ackland was involved in a nasty accident that led to his right forearm being amputated. He was then fitted with a bebionic hand that turned him into a real-life cyborg.
This advanced hand has enabled him do almost everything a human hand can do including holding a phone, tying his shoelaces, washing his left hand, holding and drinking a beer, shaking hands with other people, and typing on the computer. This bionic arm is the most high tech prosthetic arm worldwide and is controlled by the same signals from the brain that operate a human arm.
13 Rob Spence
Rob is a self-proclaimed ‘eyeborg.’ He lost his right eye during a shooting in his grandfather’s ranch when he was a teenager. Around two decades later, he decided to develop a minuscule camera to be planted in his fake eye.
He successfully did, and his prototype was named the best invention of 2009 by Time magazine. Although it has not restored his vision, Rob’s invention, which contains a wireless video camera powered by a three-volt battery, is connected to his brain and records everything he sees.
12 Jesse Sullivan
Jesse Sullivan is an electrician who lost both his arms after touching an active 7,000 volts cable. To put this into perspective, 120 volts shock is enough to make you jump. Now imagine a shock 58 times stronger. His arms were amputated and replaced with bionic arms from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
These arms have been connected to his chest, and are controlled by his brain. Jesse says that the bionics is convenient because when he wants to do something, all he has to do is think about it.
11 Cameron Clapp
As a teenager, Cameron Clapp fell and fainted on a train track. A train approached while he was passed out and ran him over; amputating both his arms and legs on the spot. Today, he uses prosthetic legs that are controlled by his brain through a microprocessor. He has three sets of these prosthetic legs for walking, swimming and running. Cameron says that his three legs work as if they are real because the microprocessor allows him to control them with his brain.
10 Claudia Mitchell
Claudia is the first woman in the world to be fitted with a bionic arm. Following a grizzly motorcycle accident in 2004, Claudia lost her left arm. She then received a prosthetic arm from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago developed at $3 million two years later.
This arm enables her to function normally as she would with her real arm. The myoelectric prosthetic uses electrical signals directly from her brain down to her nerves to a computer that interprets the motion she is thinking about.
9 Dick Cheney
Former US vice-president and George Bush’s right man was a cyborg at 69 years of age. At 37, Dick suffered his first heart attack. Since then, his heart’s condition continued to degenerate, forcing doctors to implant a Left Ventricular Assist Device to keep his heart beating. This battery-powered device sucks blood from the left ventricle and pushes it into the aorta.
Dick was also required to wear a vest that held a cable extending from his chest, a mini computer and a battery pack. However, Cheney is no longer a cyborg as he underwent a successful heart transplant in 2012.
8 Dawn O’Leary
Maryland’s Dawn O’Leary lost both her arms after being electrocuted. She was then outfitted with prosthetic arms called i-Limb.
I-Limb helped Dawn regain a high standard of living again. Her prosthetic used sensors on her skin to pick up nerve signals to operate her hand. Dawn was then able to hold a mug, pick up tissue, and was eager to learn how to type and how to hold crayons so that she could color with her grandchildren.
7 Kevin Warwick
Kevin Warwick (mentioned at entry 15) is a guru at studying the intersection between computers and the human nervous system. In 1998, he implanted an array into his arm with an aim of becoming a cyborg. He used his implants to control computer-based devices within his proximity without lifting a finger.
In 2002, Kevin underwent surgery to insert an electrode array on his left arm’s nerve fibers. Using the device, Kevin was able to control an electric wheelchair and an intelligent fake hand.
6 Michael Chorost
Michael Chorost had always had a hearing problems until one day everything went silent. He assumed that his hearing aid had lost its power so he replaced its battery pack. There was no improvement. During the subsequent days, Michael continued going deaf fast. He decided to have a Cochlear Implant surgery to insert an artificial cochlea behind his eardrum.
It contains fluid and 15,000 hair-like protrusions that turns sound waves into electrical impulses and sends them to the brain to be processed. Michael has written a book about his experience and jokes that he is part man, part machine.
5 Jens Naumann
Jens Naumann lost his sight in two separate accidents. He retreated to farming, and one day, while tilling his land, he heard a radio program about the Dobelle Institute. The program said that doctors at this institute were installing a television camera to the brain to restore vision. Jens was so elated about the prospect that he decided to sell everything he had and re-mortgaged his house to apply for the program.
Days later, he got an invitation letter that said he would be a great candidate. He was the first person to be fitted with the gadgets, regaining sight for the next 8 weeks.
4 Miikka Terho
Miikka lost his eyesight to a distressing eye disease and thought he could never see again. However, with the help of a chip, which replaces damaged cells in the retina, Miikka has been able to regain sight. The chip, which features 1,500 light-sensitive elements, has helped Miikka identify letters (as seen on the video above), read letters, distinguish cups from saucers, and tell the time. Eye surgeons described Miikka’s recovery as ‘quite astonishing’.
3 Jerry Jalava
Jerry Jalava’s story is nothing short of incredible. Jerry lost one of his fingers in a motorcycle accident in 2008.
His doctor decided to fit a USB gadget into the Finnish software developer’s new finger. Jerry now has a 2GB USB key loaded with Ajatus, Billix distribution and CouchDBX. Don’t worry about what he does should he require his USB while typing: He just pulls his finger off, uses his gadget as he pleases and returns it to its proper place afterwards.
2 Stelios Arcadiou
Stelios has a third ear growing on his left arm, and no, it isn’t organic. This Australian performance artist searched extensively for a doctor who could grow a third ear on his body. After finding one at Nottingham Trent University, his ear was cultured from cells and implanted.
He also planned to insert a microphone into the ear and connect it through Bluetooth technology to the net so that people can hear what his third ear hears. Initially, he intended to have the ear inserted on the side of his face, but doctors advised that his face would become paralyzed had he decided to follow that route.
1 Neil Harbisson
Neil Harbisson is the first person to have an implanted antenna in his skull and the first officially recognized cyborg in the world. Neil was born with a rare inability to see color. His antenna, a prosthetic gadget he calls ‘eyeborg’, helps him hear colors by switching the light frequencies of color into sound frequencies. The gadget is also high tech as it can connect to the Internet and computer devices anywhere he goes.