Exoskeletal Elysium

I haven’t seen the forthcoming movie, Elysium, but we know that it features a concept that is truly on its way: powered exoskeletal robotic technology that works in concert with the human body to recover lost motion or even to enable levels of payload carrying beyond what humans can do.  John Quain writes an article, The Science of ‘Elysium,’ for Fox News in which he reviews the science and research behind exoskeleton research. One neuroscientist suggests that seriously usable exoskeletons are between 50 and 100 years away; and I would agree with those rough estimates on the outside. I think, for some specific cases such as walking assistance, we are likely far closer, less than 25 years from significant changes to physical therapy and walking aids. As Quain notes, one of the major challenges is the robot-human nervous connection. In “Brainspotting” I propose some pretty crazy, long-term approaches involving nanobots. In the short term, the concept of targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) is a home run, enabling large muscle groups in the human body to serve as ‘remote controllers’ for multiple motors in a robo-prosthetic. It’s coming, and fast, particularly given the military’s excitement about engineering the soldier of the future.  Wikipedia has a reasonably good article on TMR, so I would start learning about interfaces there. In the meantime, enjoy the view of our robot future that sci-fi provides while you use purely organic electrochemical signals to put that popcorn in your mouth.

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