Welcome back! This is my third article in this series where I take a look at past sci-fi shows and evaluate their technology to see if it has been introduced into today’s society.   Previously I talked about ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Babylon 5,’ but this time we’re going to shift gears and think back to the times when ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ aired.

I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I remember watching ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ on television.  I’m not reluctant to admit this because I’m ashamed I watched the show – that couldn’t be further from the truth.  This show was, in my opinion, one of the best ever.  My shame comes because I’m actually at an age where I can recall its appearance on TV as part of regular programming.  Yes, I’m getting old.  Mid-thirties, actually.  But to my credit, I’ve only ever watched the reruns.  By the time it was taken off the air in 1978, I was a mere 16 months old.

If you’ve never seen it (and many of you “youngin’s” haven’t) it’s about a man named Steve Austin who’s severely injured in a crash.  He’s subsequently rebuilt during an operation that (you guessed it) cost about six million dollars.  Because of the enhancements he received, he experiences increased speed, hearing and vision which far surpass a normal human’s ability.

The purpose of this article isn’t to get into a history of the show (which I could easily continue to do since I loved it so).  My goal here is to discuss technology, so let’s switch gears a bit, shall we?

So – is it possible that people could have mechanical parts which would allow them to live full lives?  Some would argue that a pacemaker is a good example of this, and they wouldn’t be wrong.  But I want you to think bigger than this.  Think prosthetics, but not the usual kind that one would attach and detach from themselves.

According to an article by The Telegraph, people are already receiving “bionic implants” to help them achieve a higher quality of life than before.

For those who suffer from hearing loss, cochlear implants have made a world of difference.  These little robotic devices are installed in the patient.  They turn sound into electronic pulses, which in turn the brain is able to interpret, thus allowing the wearer to “hear.”  Amazing stuff.

But what’s even more exciting is what’s being done in the realm of limb replacement.  A perfect example of this is a little boy by the name of Patrick Kane.  When Kane was just 9 months old, he lost his left hand after contracting meningitis.

This prosthesis is unlike many others out on the market.  His actually works with sensors. Basically when he tenses his muscles in his arm, two electrodes that make contact with the skin transmit electricity from the nerves and cause the hand to open or close respectively.

“It’s the little things that the hand allows me to do that have really made the difference. I can open bottles with both hands now, hold my fork and tie my shoelaces,” said Patrick.

Another interesting case is that of Claudia Mitchell.  In 2004 Mitchell was in a motorcycle accident that caused her to lose her left arm.  However, thanks to some cutting edge technological bionic implants, she’s able to live an independent life.  The bionic limb, designed by  Todd Kulken, helps her by rerouting the nerves that would’ve normally ended in her arm and hand to end in her chest.  It is here that the bionic arm is able to pick up on those nerve impulses.  So when Claudia thinks about moving her arm, it does just that.  A computer in her arm interprets her thoughts and turns it into motion.

But what if you’re looking for something even more advanced than this?  What if limb replacement isn’t enough?

Researchers are currently trying to find ways to replace individual muscles with bionic implants.  Some are experimenting with synthetic polymer gels which expand and contract similarly to that of real muscle tissue.  This type of implant is actually geared toward those who are suffering from serious types of sports injuries or who may have lost muscles in accidents.

Amazingly enough, researchers at the University of Texas have actually produced artificial muscles that are 100 times stronger than their human counterparts.  Wild, isn’t it?

But what about the sense of touch?  Many who have used prosthetics have complained that not being able to feel is very frustrating to wearers.  Well, this may very well be an issue of the past.   Scientists in Italy are currently designing a synthetic skin that actually allows robots to have a sense of touch.  While this was initially designed just for our robotic friends, there are other researchers who are attempting to adapt this technology to allow amputees and others who have lost limbs a chance to actually feel again.  They’re trying to find a way to bond the robot skin to a human’s nerve cells.

Are we close to building our own Steve Austin?  Not yet, but we’re not as far off as one would think…

4 Responses to “Tech Time: A Closer Look At ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’”

  • Beibers says:

    The Six Million Dollar Man is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and i remember when it aired since i was 11 when it stopped in 1978. amazing how shows from the ’60’s-’70’s were so far ahead of their time. can’t say the same about too many shows these days. anyway, here we are 30yrs later taking real steps towards making make-belief technology into reality. we may not see people in our lifetime running faster than a car or jumping over a 12ft fence thanks to bionic implants but that doesn’t mean it will never happen.

    • So true about the shows from the past being vastly superior to the ones that are out nowadays. When I would watch this show I was absolutely amazed by the technology – I never thought they’d be able to do it. And now in my adult years we get to actually see it in its beginning stages… amazing, isn’t it?

  • Donsmith74 says:

    That is so cool! Let me share this video…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIqAnrjqb0Y

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