If you’re a technophile who enjoys joking about your desire to have cybernetic implants installed in your skull, you might be upset to know that you’re a little late to the party. Implantable technologies have been on the rise over the past several years and are making some incredible advances thanks to breakthrough research in the field of neurology. Here are just a few of the incredible new devices poised to dramatically change our world in the near future.
Injuries to the spinal cord are perhaps some of the most heartbreaking to hear about. But thanks to recent developments in biotechnology, implants are already helping patients stand. A groundbreaking study led by the University of Louisville’s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center developed an implantable device that delivered an electrical stimulation to the patient’s spinal column. According to Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, all four of their test patients regained “some level of voluntary function,” lending hope to the idea that implants may soon provide quadriplegics with a complete cure for their paralysis.
While we’re still a far way off from creating eyes that let us zoom in on sporting events, retinal implants to assist the blind are already here. The Argus II retinal prosthesis system is on the market in the U.S. as the first FDA-approved retinal implant for people suffering certain types of blindness. While patients showed improvement in their ability to recognize various shapes, these types of implants are still primitive in function and only allow patients to recognize blurry images. However, groups like the Boston Retinal Implant Project are continuing on with their years of experience in a quest to build a true bionic eye for the blind.
Although current technology doesn’t allow us to target individual neurons in the brain, it does allow us to locate which areas of it are active and when. Selective targeting of these active sections is helping researchers at the Pentagon agency, DARPA, to work on brain implants that improve memory. This could turn a soldier’s brain into a biological black box to help bring back intel from a war zone, and perhaps later be adapted into helping people recover memories after a stroke or accident.
Who needs a GPS when you could have your very own biological compass that points north? Brian McEvoy, an electrical engineer and biohacker, has developed the first internal compass known as the Southpaw. This compass has a small whisker that brushes the underside of the skin once the wearer faces north. Other researchers like Rich Lee have found ways to embed magnets in their ears that allow them to sense magnetic fields and Wi-Fi signals, granting users an entirely new level of sensory perception to their world.
While it’ll be some time before implants really start to take off, the advances thus far have set the stage for a very interesting future. Although current implants are primarily centered on helping the disabled, it won’t be long before we seek out ways for them to improve ourselves in more ways than we could ever imagine.