Bionics: The Future of Healthcare

By Sharon Smith
Thursday, 02 July, 2015

You may have heard that robots are the future of healthcare, but do you know about bionics (or where biology and electrical engineering meet)? Australia is doing some exciting work in medical bionics and while some of the applications are still in development, others are in clinical trials - and others are already in the market place.
Just last week Australia’s best and brightest met to talk about the latest happenings in the industry, and here is a quick summary of what we can expect to see in the not-so-distant future.
The VibroMat is a sensory substitution device for the blind. Sensory substitution devices relay information from a non-functional sensory system to an alternative, intact sensory channel. The VibroMat redirects visual information to a tactile display worn on the lower back.
Bionic hands are based on myoelectric prosthetic hand control, which works with the muscle activity of the section of the muscle that is remaining after the amputation. The latest technology advancement in the myoelectric prosthetic hand is the design of artificial muscles that can be used to control the individual fingers and provide various complex wrist movements and grip patterns. There are also other technologies that are currently being developed to provide better tactile feedback from the prosthetic hand device to the user. In future, these technologies will lead to a better and intelligent bionic hand.
The Biopen is a handheld biofabrication tool, which enables the deposition of living cells and biomaterials in a direct-write fashion. Human mesenchymal stem cells cells suspended in a gelatin-methacrylate/hyaluronic acid-methacrylate inks have been printed to generate surgically sculpted 3D structures.
Bionic brains are underway: Electronic memory elements that store information in the form of electrical resistance. Such electronic cells would serve as functional elements of a bionic brain and need to be able to store multiple complex information states, have long-term performance under a stream of electrical impulses, and properties that can be reversibly tuned could be possible through the ‘memristor’.
SmartStent has developed a minimally-invasive brain machine interface. The neural-recording technology has the potential to enable direct control of computers, exoskeletons and prosthetic limbs by people with paralysis.
Bionic vision is emerging in two ways for different vision conditions. Retinal prosthesis is compared to braille for the eyes, whereas augmented vision is similar to a camera-to-brain broadcast but using the addition of with brain electrode stimulation and audio assistance providing sensory cues.

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